Friday, May 31, 2013

Book Review: Black Venus by James MacManus

Review Copy Provided by Booktrib 
Publication Date: May 7th 2013
Format: Hardcover, 368 pages


Synopsis (From the Publisher):
"A vivid novel of Charles Baudelaire and his lover Jeanne Duval, the Haitian cabaret singer who inspired his most famous and controversial poems, set in nineteenth-century Paris.

For readers who have been drawn to The Paris Wife, Black Venus captures the artistic scene in the great French city decades earlier, when the likes of Dumas and Balzac argued literature in the cafes of the Left Bank. Among the bohemians, the young Charles Baudelaire stood out—dressed impeccably thanks to an inheritance that was quickly vanishing. Still at work on the poems that he hoped would make his name, he spent his nights enjoying the alcohol, opium, and women who filled the seedy streets of the city.

One woman would catch his eye—a beautiful Haitian cabaret singer named Jeanne Duval. Their lives would remain forever intertwined thereafter, and their romance would inspire his most infamous poems—leading to the banning of his masterwork, Les Fleurs du Mal, and a scandalous public trial for obscenity.

James MacManus's Black Venus re-creates the classic Parisian literary world in vivid detail, complete with not just an affecting portrait of the famous poet but also his often misunderstood, much-maligned muse."

My Review:

Written with passion and precision, Black Venus explores the mysterious and powerful relationship between 19th century poet Charles Baudelaire and his muse, Jeanne Duval. From the back alleyways of Paris, to smokey cabaret clubs and mob riots, the story gives a vivid portrayal of how Jeanne Duval inspired Charles Baudelaire's controversial work, Les Fleurs du Mal. 

This is a very well written novel, and it is apparent how much research went into its creation. From the very first chapter, the reader is drawn into a 19th century Paris full of filth and corruption, and it is easy to take on the roll of the gossip thirsty society as the scandalous story unfolds. Even though the story spans over 20+ years, it never feels bogged down with information, and it reads at a very fast pace. The main characters, Charles and Jeanne, are not very sympathetic in this novel, but their story is still a very compelling read. The only downside to this novel was the ending. During the last 50 pages, the narration seemed to change from a flowing story to a type of bullet point history lesson; it came across as rushed and unfinished.

Overall, Black Venus is a splendid novel that will have you wanting to pick it up the moment you set it down. Whether or not you are familiar with Charles Baudelaire's poems, life or mistress, there is something for everyone to enjoy while reading this book.


James MacManus talks about Black Venus:




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