I knew the name sounded familiar (and French) but I didn’t know much about her. Camille Claudel was a gifted sculptor and the mistress of Auguste Rodin, living in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. Heather Webb has taken her story and made it come vibrantly alive in her new historical novel: RODIN’S LOVER.
Camille has loved creating from clay since she was a child. She loves the outdoors and her family’s estate in the French countryside. But Camille comes to realize that being a woman artist gives her little to no rights or privileges in 1800’s France, and she must work doubly hard to be recognized, let alone to be accepted, as an artist. Her creative nature is often overpowered by her intense and emotional personality (and as she matures, mental illness). However, her passionate and intense relationship with Rodin gives her an opportunity to showcase her work, as they each serve as muse for the other.
I can hardly give this novel justice in my short blurb of it. Heather Webb skillfully and beautifully portrays Camille’s life so artfully (no pun intended) that I just couldn’t stop thinking about Camille once the book was over. I could picture her perfectly, I could feel her emotion, and at the end, when I knew the rest of her life’s sad story, I was haunted by her.
Beautifully written, RODIN’S LOVER is a book that I will not soon forget. The cover is a photograph of the real Camille Claudel. Within the novel are pictures of her art that Ms. Webb had recreated by a former student who is an artist – thus I recommend a paper copy (mine did not show well on my kindle, however, I did have an ARC).
A while back I went to a book talk and signing by Erika Robuck held at my favorite indie: The Concord Bookshop. I loved her talk about how she came to write CALL ME ZELDA, about Zelda Fitzgerald’s time spent in a mental institution while she was treated for schizophrenia and the relationship she forms with her nurse. I bought but saved CALL ME ZELDA until our trip in August so that I could take it with me (sort of like bringing along a special friend!). I enjoyed this beautiful but heart-breaking novel and didn’t want it to end.
In CALL ME ZELDA, psychiatric nurse Anna Howard is still recovering herself from the losses of WWI (her husband is MIA and her young daughter has died of pneumonia). She works at a mental hospital and has Zelda Fitzgerald (wife of F. Scott) in her charge. She and Zelda form a bond and become friends. Anna’s emotional attachment to the troubled Zelda leads her to leave her job and work privately for the Fitzgerald family, where she is privy to the highs and lows, the sweetness and the abuse, of Scott and Zelda’s relationship. Zelda, who is schizophrenic and also seems depressed, is unpredictable yet vulnerable. She shows great brilliance, yet feels smothered and held back by Scott. Scott, meanwhile, is an alcoholic who brilliance is at times eclipsed by his selfish manipulations. Anna’s own back story exists as another story line in this book: her struggle with coming to peace with her losses and her striving to begin to live life again.
All in all, I loved this book. It read easily and I felt the character of Anna was well-developed and believable. I didn’t know too much about the Fitzgeralds before reading this novel, and I realize it is fiction, but I found their portrayal quite fascinating. This is one of several books on Zelda Fitzgerald published this year and I put in with my “woman behind the man books” – e.g. “The Paris Wife”, “The Aviator’s Wife”, “Loving Frank”, etc. This was a great read and will undoubtedly be one of my top books for 2013 – made all the more special because my copy is signed by Erika!
Several weeks ago, Nicole Wolverton emailed me and asked me if I wanted to read and review her new novel, “The Trajectory of Dreams”. She also sent along the first chapter. It seemed intriguing, so I said yes and Nicole kindly sent me a copy of her book.
In this novel, Lela White is a sleep lab technician who has a dark and troubled secret life separate from her seemingly normal everyday existence. Lela is obsessed with the sleep of astronauts and believes that years ago her mother set a bomb on a space shuttle, killing all on board. Lela is determined to make sure that the astronauts are deep sleepers and has an involved mission (including breaking into their homes) to further her objectives. Then Lela becomes attracted to and friendly with a Russian cosmonaut and he threatens the orderliness of her world and her mission.
SPOILER ALERT! In a nutshell, Lela appears outwardly normal but is seriously mentally ill, to the point of being paranoid and dangerous. She will make sure that no one stands in the way of her mission, even if it comes to murder. As this book progressed, I felt like I was on a roller coaster ride with Lela. Things were getting more and more bizarre, but I had this horrid fascination and could NOT stop reading! I had to know how things would turn out. I was reminded of reading Gillian Flynn’s work as I read this novel. I also was a bit reminded of Lehane’s “Shutter Island”.