Author: Stephanie Cowell
Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge
First Sentence: "Dull late-afternoon light glittered on the hanging copper pots in the kitchen where the old painter sat with his wine, smoking a cigarette, a letter angrily crumpled on the table in front of him."
Summary (From the back of the book):
In his early twenties, Claude Monet arrives in Paris determined to make his fortune as an artist. Instead, he finds poverty and obscurity but also camaraderie in a group of similarly unknown painters -- Renoir, Pissarro, Degas, Bazille, Manet, and Cezanne -- who share his vision and passion. But the single-most influential person in his life is a charming and vivacious upper-class girl named Camille Doncieux, who rejects a life of privilege to be with him. He falls madly in love with Camille, and his first great success is a portrait of her in an exquisite green opera dress. The two manage to stay together through years of bitter opposition from their families, Claude's artistic failures, and wretched poverty, but adversity eventually takes its toll. Even as Monet begins to sell his work, his marriage to Camille descends into tragedy -- and Monet realizes that he has never completely known his true love and greatest muse.
My Two Cents:
I'm a big fan of not only books about real people (authors, artists, politicians, etc.), but also those which give a little (fictional) insight into the making of famous paintings. I love Susan Vreeland and Tracy Chevalier's work, so I decided to give this one a try.
All in all, I really enjoyed this book. I liked how Cowell showed the reader how much Monet struggled to become as well-known a painter as he was. I also liked that she showed the reader someone who, even according to the few accounts of her real life, had a huge impact on Monet's life and work. In her author's note, Cowell says there is not much written about Camille Doncieux, but she takes what little there is and runs with it.
For the most part, Cowell's writing is very readable, and I was able to see a lot of what she was describing. Her dialogue between the characters, however, was a little stilted at times. This isn't the biggest example of the dialogue (I really need to start putting Post-its on the pages or something), but this is a randomly chosen piece of dialogue that kind of made me raise my eyebrows:
"People died," she stammered. "I ran out when the city was burning. And it all seemed to burn. A boy died before me, shot down. I've not been very good in my life. The nuns raised me to be good, but I've not been. That bullet was perhaps meant for me, no him. I ran back here and waited for it. And it was all ashes from the burning, coming through the window, huge black things that settled everywhere." (p. 244-5 in the ARC edition - Finished copies may have different page numbers)
I also had a difficult time connecting to Monet as a character. I just didn't really feel one way or another about him, but that didn't really influence my reading of the novel, which is strange. I also didn't really connect with Camille that much, but I did feel as if she was more fleshed out and realistic than Monet was. I think I enjoyed all the more minor characters -- Bazille, Pissarro, Renoir -- that I was able to overlook the fact that I didn't really feel that much for the main characters.
If you enjoy fine art, or like reading fictionalized accounts of the lives of famous people, I think you would enjoy this book.