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Extended Audio Sample The Center of the World Audiobook, by Thomas Van Essen Click for printable size audiobook cover
0 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 5 0.00 (0 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Thomas Van Essen Narrator: Simon Vance, Paul Michael, Cassandra Campbell, Vanessa Benjamin, Gildart Jackson Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: June 2013 ISBN: 9781470881504
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Alternating between nineteenth-century England and present-day New York, this is the story of renowned British painter J. M. W. Turner and his circle of patrons and lovers. It is also the story of Henry Leiden, a middle-aged family man with a troubled marriage and a dead-end job, who finds his life transformed by his discovery of Turner’s The Center of the World, a mesmerizing and unsettling painting of Helen of Troy that was thought to have been lost forever.

This painting has such devastating erotic power that it was kept hidden for almost two centuries, and was even said to have been destroyed—until Henry stumbles upon it in a secret compartment at his summer home in the Adirondacks. Though he knows it is an object of immense value, the thought of parting with it is unbearable: Henry is transfixed by its revelation of a whole other world, one of transcendent light, joy, and possibility.

Back in the nineteenth century, Turner struggles to create The Center of the World, his greatest painting but a painting unlike anything he (or anyone else) has ever attempted. We meet his patron, Lord Egremont, an aristocrat in whose palatial home Turner talks freely about his art and his beliefs. We also meet Elizabeth Spencer, Egremont’s mistress and Turner’s muse, the model for his Helen. Meanwhile, in the present, Henry is relentlessly trailed by an unscrupulous art dealer determined to get his hands on the painting at any cost. Filled with sex, beauty, and love (of all kinds), this richly textured novel explores the intersection between art and eroticism.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “The main character in Van Essen’s ambitious debut novel is the lost titular painting by renowned British artist J. M. W. Turner. The big theme is among the biggest: the power of art.”

    Booklist

  • “With the painting’s journey, newcomer Van Essen demonstrates a flair for dialogue and an appreciation for how art moves the human heart.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “A terrific debut novel about the mystical and erotic power of art…Van Essen writes gracefully and makes accessible the issue of art as transcendence.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • “Was J. M. W. Turner anything like Thomas Van Essen has presented him in this ambitious debut novel? After a few pages you will hardly care, as you will be gladly moving from the dinner table of Turner’s patron in early nineteenth century England, to the calculating art world of present-day New York City, to the rustic beauty of the Adirondacks and all its treasures, hidden and otherwise. In Thomas Van Essen’s characters and the impressive scope of this story we are given a strong case for the transformative nature of art, and how beauty can be a balm for the human soul.”

    Mary Beth Keane, author of Fever and The Walking People

  • “An utterly absorbing journey of the spell cast by a secret painting on those few who have seen it over 150 years.  Love and desire, treachery and mystery, great beauty and the loss of it, and finding love at last when you thought it was gone—all kept me up late reading this passionate novel of human fallibility and immortal art.”

    Stephanie Cowell, author of Claude and Camille: A Novel of Monet

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About the Author

Thomas Van Essen graduated from Sarah Lawrence College and earned his PhD in English from Rutgers University. He lives in New Jersey with his family. The Center of the World is his first novel.

About the Narrators

Simon Vance (a.k.a. Robert Whitfield) is an award-winning actor and an AudioFile Golden Voice with fifty-eight Earphones Awards. He has won thirteen prestigious Audie Awards and was Booklist’s very first Voice of Choice in 2008. He has narrated more than eight hundred audiobooks over almost thirty years, beginning when he was a radio newsreader for the BBC in London.

Paul Michael is an Audie Award-winning narrator. He has acted on stage, radio, television, and in feature films in Canada, Great Britain, and the United States. He has had leading roles in series and made-for-television movies and has guest starred in such series as VIP and Alias. He has been nominated for a Canadian Emmy (or Nellie) and has recorded over 150 audiobooks, including the international bestseller The Da Vinci Code, winning more than a dozen AudioFile Earphones Awards.

Cassandra Campbell, Audie Award–nominated narrator and winner of several Earphones Awards, has performed in regional theaters across the country and in several off-Broadway shows at the Public Theater and the Mint Theater. In addition to narrating audiobooks, acting, and directing, she is a commercial and documentary voice-over artist.

Vanessa Benjamin (a.k.a. Roe Kendall) is a native of the British Isles. Some twenty-five years ago she moved to the United States with her family and set down roots in Maryland. She graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London, receiving their silver medal as well as the Sir Emile Littler and Caryl Brahms awards. Benjamin has performed on stage in the Washington, DC, area for several years and at many venues and has performed at the Kennedy Center as Mrs. Schubert in the long-running show Shear Madness. An accomplished actress and narrator, she has recorded over two hundred books. Her work as a freelance voice-over artist and narrator has led her in many interesting directions, from technical government materials to eighteenth-century romance novels to hotel advertising, but narrating books is what she really enjoys. “I really love playing all the parts when I narrate a book. It’s an adventure, a challenge, and above all I feel that I learn something new with each book I read. I do a lot of reading for the Library of Congress’ Blind and Physically Handicapped program, and it is so rewarding for me especially when I get a letter from a patron; it’s a great service for the listener.”

Gildart Jackson’s acting credits span the stage and screen. He is most often recognized for his roles as Gideon on Charmed and Simon Prentiss on General Hospital. He has also starred in numerous television shows, including CSI and Vegas, and he played the lead in the highly acclaimed independent feature film You, directed by his wife, Melora Hardin.