Sunday, July 28, 2013

Book Review, Claude and Camille, A Novel of Monet

To read this gem of a novel is like entering an Impressionist painting and becoming immersed in its vibrant colors, glistening hilights, and hidden shadows. As a love story, it traces the arc of Claude Monet's life-long passion for Camille Doncieux, the woman who was his sweetheart, his muse, the mother of his two children, and, later, his wife.

The author, Stephanie Cowell
But Claude and Camille also captures the love of art that drives artists to pawn their few possessions for tubes of paint, borrow repeatedly from friends and relatives to stave off creditors, suffer repeated evictions from lodgings, stay outside all day in freezing temperatures in order to capture the play of light on waves or snow covered fields.

In his early painting days, Claude and his friend Fédéric Bazille share a studio in Paris that quickly becomes the hub of activity for several artist friends, among them, Renoir, Pissarro, Cezanne, Degas. All the young painters are filled with visions of a new way of painting. The future seems promising, despite the fact that most of them are in debt. Almost all of them are artists against family wishes: Claude's father wants him to take over his nautical supplies shop in Le Havre. Bazille's family wants him to become a doctor.

Claude first sees Camille in a train station in Paris. Arrested by her  beauty, he makes a quick sketch of her before she vanishes. Then he comes across her by accident in her uncle's bookshop four years later. It seems destiny. Accepting his invitation to pose for a painting, Camille brings her sister to Fontainebleau as a chaperone. Later, in Paris, Camille poses again for Claude, and the portrait is accepted by the Salon in the Palais de l'Industrie. When he takes her to see the exhibit, convent-educated Camille decides she's in love with him and leaves her family and her fiancé to become Claude's lover and the darling of his circle of friends.

But Camille—Minou to friends and family—is a bundle of mysteries and contradictions: She wants to go on stage. She wants to write a novel. She wants to have lots of children. She has moods. A devoted muse and passionate lover, Camille's life centers around Claude. Or does it? Her own mother whispers to Claude in one scene, "There are things you don't yet understand about our Minou . . ."

This book was so good, I read it twice. The author's rendering of the Impressionists' world reflects her thorough research. Characters and settings come alive. The lives that unfold are entirely believable. This is a must read for history lovers, art lovers and anyone who just likes a good story.

You can order this book at:
Random House
Barnes & Noble

For more information about Stephanie Cowell and her other books,
visit the author's website:

You can also contact her at:

How about you? Do you have a favorite novel you've read more than once? Do you like fiction based on famous figures in history? (Share titles, please!)