Friday, May 14, 2010

Book Review & Guest Post: Claude and Camille by Stephanie Cowell

Synopsis: (From the Publisher)

"Sometimes he dreamt he held her; that he would turn in bed and she would be there. But she was gone and he was old. Nearly seventy. Only cool paint met his fingers. “Ma très chère . . .” Darkness started to fall, dimming the paintings. He felt the crumpled letter in his pocket. “I loved you so,” he said. “I never would have had it turn out as it did. You were with all of us when we began, you gave us courage. These gardens at Giverny are for you but I’m old and you’re forever young and will never see them. . . .”

In the mid-nineteenth century, a young man named Claude Monet decided that he would rather endure a difficult life painting landscapes than take over his father’s nautical supplies business in a French seaside town. Against his father’s will, and with nothing but a dream and an insatiable urge to create a new style of art that repudiated the Classical Realism of the time, he set off for Paris.
But once there he is confronted with obstacles: an art world that refused to validate his style, extreme poverty, and a war that led him away from his home and friends. But there were bright spots as well: his deep, enduring friendships with men named Renoir, Cézanne, Pissarro, Manet – a group that together would come to be known as the Impressionists, and that supported each other through the difficult years. But even more illuminating was his lifelong love, Camille Doncieux, a beautiful, upper-class Parisian girl who threw away her privileged life to be by the side of the defiant painter and embrace the lively Bohemian life of their time. 

His muse, his best friend, his passionate lover, and the mother to his two children, Camille stayed with Monet—and believed in his work—even as they lived in wretched rooms, were sometimes kicked out of those, and often suffered the indignities of destitution. She comforted him during his frequent emotional torments, even when he would leave her for long periods to go off on his own to paint in the countryside.
But Camille had her own demons – secrets that Monet could never penetrate, including one that when eventually revealed would pain him so deeply that he would never fully recover from its impact. For though Camille never once stopped loving the painter with her entire being, she was not immune to the loneliness that often came with being his partner. 
A vividly-rendered portrait of both the rise of Impressionism and of the artist at the center of the movement,Claude and Camille is above all a love story of the highest romantic order."

My Review:

In this touching and in depth look into the life of Claude Monet, the reader is at once absorbed into a world of art and passion. Told from the perspective of Monet himself, we follow him from his first days as an aspiring artist, through his struggles and hardships, then into his reflective later years. After reading Claude and Camille, Monet's brilliant artwork has taken on a whole new meaning and depth. In writing this novel, Stephine Cowell has brought Monet and his art to vivid reality, and in doing so, she has also created a masterpiece of her own. 

I am happy to announce that, as a part of her current blog tour, Stephanie has stopped by today to share with us a lovely guest post!

Tank you Stephanie for bestowing Confessions and Ramblings of a Muse in the Fog with your time and thoughts; it is a pleasure to have you here!

~The advice of a wise old scholar to a new historical novelist~

I once had a conversation with the very great Elizabethan scholar A.L. Rowse in the sunny quad of an Oxford College. He was then a mere 85 years old and I was quite in awe of him. In fact everyone was so scared of his irascible temper that they stayed away from him but he was never bad tempered with me. I had won a 10 day scholarship to live at Oxford and attend lectures there because of the Elizabethan novels I was trying to write and so we met to my great joy and awe.

I asked him timidly as we sat in the sun, “But is it ok to invent things and to make up dialogue?” And his eyebrows raised and he said fiercely, “Of course you have to make up dialogue! And scenes.”

He was also a Shakespeare scholar and I pondered these things. We have no idea if Henry V rose up before his men as they were about to storm Agincourt and cried, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends! Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’” He might have muttered to one of his captains that his shoes hurt and it looked like rain might dampen the gun powder. But for four hundred years brave Harry has lived in the minds and hearts of readers for this speech.

So of course you have to make things up and with that you may have the blessing or skepticism of readers. Fiction brings historical figures to life as no biography can do. And looking back at that conversation I had with Dr. Rowse that day and a subsequent one seated at the High Table in Jesus College’s dining hall under a picture of Elizabeth I who founded the college, I realized that while I was looking at him with awe, he was also looking at me a little wistfully because I had the gift or the tenacity to make history come to life through fiction. We each had different gifts.

Mine was complicated. Sometimes historical fiction travels over a period of many years in which thousands of scenes between the real people took place but in a book, they must be condensed to a handful, each showing the development of the characters. Which scenes? What dialogue? What history do we need? His was complicated. He spent days and days studying the buttery books from the 1580’s of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (the history of what each student bought to eat every day then, and yes they kept the hand-written accounts!) to discover what the playwright Christopher Marlowe spent on food when there. Dr. Rowse spent months poring over original documents from London circa 1600 to discover the identity of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady of the Sonnets.

Dr. Rowse was a good friend of his Cornish neighbor, Daphne du Maurier, and knew and loved her novels well. He knew that historical novelists are the best entry to times past for a reader. I used Dr. Rowse’s research for my first three novels. I kept writing him begging letters to his house in Cornwall to tell me more and more about my then subject. And finally he wrote back testily, “You know quite enough about these people and their times. Now write your novel!” In the last few years of life, I set one of his poems to music, sang it to the guitar and sent it to him. A small enough gift to a great man. 

Since then I have done and continue to do as my gifted colleagues do (and as he ordered me to do in his last letters written at the age of 92), to keep studying and then write my novels and bring times past between the covers of a book. I have his many letters on the English blue letter paper of the time in his scrawling handwriting. “Keep writing,” he told me. “Never never betray your gift. Let me know if you need anything more from me. Love, A.L.”
To learn more about Stephanie and her works, you can visit her website:

FTC: I received this book from the publisher. As always, these are my own honest opinions.
Copyright © 2010 Svea Love. All Rights Reserved.


Kim Bullock said...

I adored everything about this book. I agree that historical fiction does much more to bring someone to life than straight biography. That's why I switched my current work-in-progress to a novel.

Mystica said...

I have read almost everything I can about this book and now have to hunt it down. Thank you for your review.

Elise said...

I loved your review of Claude and Camille. I recently won a copy of this ARC and am glad it had a good review. You speak beautifully in your reviews. Thanks! I will definitely come back to read your other reviews.

Blodeuedd said...

Nice post.
This book sounds more and more interesting, I love that she gave up everything, but what else did she do

Unknown said...

I loved this book. Like you, Monet's paintings took on a new meaning for me after reading this. Great review!

Anonymous said...

What a fabulous guest post! Cowell couldn't help but succeed with such a blessing ~

Sandy said...

Love this post so much I added it to my Sunday round-up.

Stephanie Cowell said...

Sandy and StephanieD, thanks so much! I almost didn't send in this guest blog after I wrote it because it was so personal to me that I couldn't imagine what others would think! Now I am glad I did!

Viola said...

What a lovely post! I am so glad that I read it. I like Dr. Rowse's writing. How wonderful to meet the great man himself!

Sarah Joyce said...

Your review is lovely! I loved Claude & Camille as well. I'm so glad I got an ARC copy, because if I hadn't I may have never found it.

Stephanie's guest post was so beautiful and personal. Really everything about this post was a pleasure to read!

Stephanie Renee dos Santos said...

Just reading the Publishers words on Stephanie Cowell’s book “Claude & Camille” brings heartfelt tears to my eyes…ah this life as the artist. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone, but I can’t imagine living my life any other way—but in the pursuit of bringing forth the essence of being through the written word and through the visual arts. It is a blessing and a torment to be driven to create and Stephanie’s novel portrays the passion and willingness to sacrifice for the calling of heart – to create at all costs by both Claude and Camille. I loved this book.


Stephanie Renée dos Santos

Stephanie Renee dos Santos said...

Please Note: I think I may have attributed Stephanie Cowell’s words, that I enjoyed so much, to the Publisher…in the comment I just submitted, please note this correction.