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Archive for the ‘France’ Category

Nina George, author most recently of The Little French Bistro and before that The Little Paris Bookshop has captured the novel market on Lost Souls. Just like Jean Perdu in The Little Paris Bookshop, Marianne, the sixty year old wife of Lothar, is lost. In a loveless marriage for 41 years, she has suffered, hoping that her suffering is a sign of strength rather than lethargy and resignation.

On a trip to Paris, Marianne gets off her tour bus, wanders until she finds the perfect bridge over the Seine and jumps in…after carefully taking off her shoes, folding her coat and depositing her wedding ring into the shoe. Hoping to drift away and end her suffering, unfortunately she is saved by a nearby vagrant and taken to a local hospital.

Having been diagnosed as being unstable, she sees no alternative but to return to her husband until she realizes, on the spur of the moment, that she can merely walk out of the building. She walks and rides, her destination the port city of Kerdruc in Brittany (I’ll let you read the book to find out why) where, of course, marvelous things happen.

As in The Little Paris Bookstore, The Little French Bistro (apparently called The Little Breton Bistro in the French version–click the link for a little more detailed synopsis), there are many lost souls in Kerdruc and Marianne touches the lives of each of them in ways she could never imagine. In the course of doing so, she discovers herself and realizes/hopes that at 60 years of age, it is not too late to live a full and happy life.

Ms. George has created memorable characters from the boorish Lothar to Simon, Jean-Remy and all the inhabitants of Kerdruc. She weaves some mythology and superstition into her narrative, told in the third person. She balances Marianne’s desire to be independent for the first time in her life against her desire to be loved as she or any woman deserves, also for the first time in her life.

The Little French Bistro has love and loss. It covers many of our basic emotions. It attacks our universal stupidity in matters of the heart. It begs us to reach out.

While Ms. George, at times, can get a little wordy over love and its importance and the consequences of its success or failure, she creates an interesting world that I’ve not read about before. I’ll caution readers here, as I did in my review of The Little Paris Bookshop, that this really isn’t a guy’s book. But, on the other hand, it is a charming book and maybe any male readers brave enough to try it, might learn how to treat the fairer sex.

Ms. George’s books are quite the pair and you can’t go wrong reading them both.

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I’m not a non-fiction fan but I am an Impressionist fan, Monet in particular. But the cover of Ross King’s book and the book’s title, Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies both convinced me the book was worth a try. I’ve seen some of Monet’s water lily paintings and they are magnificent.

Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies

I never really pictured Monet, never thought about his life or personality. I never thought about whether he was self-absorbed, whether he suffered for his art, how old he was when he passed away.

Ross King brought all of that into perspective. Mad Enchantment really covers the second half of Monet’s 80+ years, and paints an interesting, yet disturbing portrait of the artist (no pun intended). While I still hold Monet in high esteem for his talent, the (unearned) accompanying esteem for him as a person has diminished greatly. Instead, Monet comes across as a whiner, a self-centered individual who used his friends, fame and connections rather than cultivating them.

Image result for monet's water lilies

Ross describes art critics’ reviews of Monet’s works and I found very interesting, in particular, their discussion of the water lilies. Apparently water lilies represent the female form and so these water lilies represent women, especially nude female models that Monet’s jealous wife Alice wouldn’t let him paint. (I’m thinking they let their imaginations run wild!)  Art critics!

Monet was temperamental and prone to outbursts of such magnitude that he would slash and burn paintings by the hundreds. I can’t imagine his output if so many paintings were destroyed. At the same time it appears he was a perfectionist which explains the magnificence of his works.

In the end, Monet did suffer for his art. He had cataracts and one theory is that his constant viewing of his ponds with the sunlight reflecting off might have been a cause of the cataracts. What could be worse that an artist with impaired vision.

All in all, Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies was an enlightening read.

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