The Sitter

Angela O'Keeffe

The Sitter
University of Queensland Press
1 August 2023

The Sitter

Angela O'Keeffe

Paris, 2020. A writer is confined to her hotel room during the early days of the pandemic, struggling to finish a novel about Hortense Cezanne, wife and sometime muse of the famous painter. Dead for more than a century, Hortense has been reawakened by this creative endeavour, and now shadows the writer through the locked-down city. But Hortense, always subject to the gaze of others, is increasingly intrigued by the woman before her. Who is she and what event hides in her past?

Heartbreaking and perfectly formed, The Sitter explores the tension between artist and subject, and between the stories told about us and the stories we choose to tell.


In The Sitter, the spirit of Hortense Cézanne – wife of the more famous Paul – is reanimated by the interest of her biographer and coexists in a hotel room in Paris at the start of the pandemic in 2020. So alive is she, that she narrates this book. Does this sound like an outlandish and impossible set up to you (as it would to me, if someone described it this way)? The genius of Angela O’Keeffe’s novel is that not once did I question its premise: so perfect is its form, so confident the hand that wrote it, so inventive the mind of its creator.

There is so much to absorb from this slender book that it had me reflecting on its contents for days. I thought a lot about the ethics of historical biography, and the relationship that is manufactured between subject and writer by the act of writing and research: how can a biographer speak for a person they cannot meet? I thought (again) about all those unknown women of history whose stories and lives have been overshadowed by men, and wondered how we can ever know enough about them. I thought about art and creativity and purpose and fame. And of course, my mind returned to those early days of the pandemic – because this is a novel of the pandemic – as Hortense sits alongside her biographer and researches her in turn, learning about who the writer is as she experiences claustrophobia and loneliness, trapped during lockdown in a city not her own, so far from family and home in Australia. It’s confronting, and sad, but a stunning poetic rendering of that most challenging time.

The Sitter is a beautiful surprise of a book and a highlight of my reading year so far.

This item is in-stock at 8 shops and will ship in 3-4 days

Our stock data is updated periodically, and availability may change throughout the day for in-demand items. Please call the relevant shop for the most current stock information. Prices are subject to change without notice.

Sign in or become a Readings Member to add this title to a wishlist.