“He always began in apprehension. If it worked, there would be a time when the painting took him, when it reached out and he became it, when he smelled of oil and mineral spirits, when he and the air became one.”
Claude and Camille, Stephanie Cowell
Claude and Camille, by Stephanie Cowell, was published in April of 2010 and is 352 pages. It is the story of the impressionist painter, Monet, his love and muse, Camille Donceaux, and his rise to prominence . It spans most of his life, finely detailing his relationship with his art, his family, his friends, and his women. It is an epic work, and one of the finest historical novels I’ve ever read.
The story begins with seventeen year old Claude–a creative, confident man full of the passions of youth and his own ambition. To his father’s dismay he refuses to work in the family business, but instead, devotes his time to painting with the artist, Boudin, who introduces him to landscapes.
After the death of his beloved mother, Monet moves to Paris to pursue his dream. Through art classes and cafes he finds his friends, a group of struggling painters including Renoir, Pissarro, Manet, and Frederic Bazille. They share crowded studio apartments, painting by day and sleeping on the floor next to one another by night.
After being drafted and serving in the military, Claude returns to Paris and meets his muse, his love, his life’s greatest passion: Camille, the daughter of a wealthy Parisian family, not at all enamored with their daughter’s choice of lover. The rest of the book explores his tumultuous love affair with Camille, his family, and his art, and is framed in interludes from his old age that give the work a tender, nostalgic quality.
This book taught me so much. I delighted in scrolling through scores of impressionist paintings online–touched by what I now knew of their origin, and how to look at them. As a writer, I could identify with the frustrations Monet endured on his long, slow path to recognition. The passionate way Cowell portrayed Claude and Camille’s love story was deeply touching and authentic.
Nothing gives me greater joy than falling in love with an author’s work, and finding out that there’s more of it I haven’t read. I intent to read all of Ms. Cowell’s books this summer, and I imagine I’ll have more five-star reviews following this one.
For more on the artist and the author visit www.stephaniecowell.com.