marginalia || Claude and Camille, by Stephanie Cowell

Obligatory quote:

They were both astonished to have found each other. You are not a dream, they whispered to each other in the middle of the night.

Huff. When I did my review of Sunflowers: A Novel of Vincent van Gogh (Sheramy Bundrick), Holly brought the novel Claude and Camille by Stephanie Cowell to my attention. And I was ExcitedPants. I like Monet; he was involved in key parts of my childhood: My mother used to have a ginormous print of his in her office, and later he moved to the dining room. The painting as witness, and all that jazz.

But Claude and Camille easily became rather disappointing for me. I couldn’t finish it. I tried, dammit–I’ve been reading this book for weeks. I just gave up on it, decided to give up on it. Partly because of such high expectations not being met and the familiarity and fondness for Monet and his works. Partly because, well, I thought that the novel–beyond any preconceived notions I may have–just didn’t work. It wasn’t a very good novel, let alone a novel about an actual person.

Off the top of my head:

  • Claude and Camille never transcended being characters–and they weren’t very well-written characters at that. There’s the struggling artist whose rather Meh, and there’s the woman he loves whose characters is defined as The Women Monet Loves.
  • There’s nothing remotely romantic about this. In theory, it offered all–a novel of great passion and grand love, and so on. But when you hardly glance at the characters, you’re definitely not getting any romance.
  • The language refused to move fluidly, even in scenes where it’s supposed to. I mean, I would have forgiven–even welcomed–some purple prose in, say, scenes of declarations of undying love. But I got a lot of clunk. I place high significance on how language is used in the text. I like language, I like words. And it just Clunk, Clunk, Clunk.

[Such a lackluster elaboration on my lackluster reaction to this lackluster book. Someone over at Amazon has more fire in him. And since I’m feeling meh and lazy about all this, you have to go there–I completely agree with everything he says.]

BUT I think I’m in the minority. Taking a look around book blogs: Jenn of Jenn’s Bookshelves called it “a well-rounded novel.” Julie of Booking Mama thought the characters were “extremely interesting and very well-developed.” Dawn of 5 Minutes for Books thought it was “wonderful.” And Amy of Passages from the Past thought that the novel was “by far one of the most beautiful books I have ever read.” So yeah. Just pointing that out.

I think maybe, partly, it’s a case of “not the right book”–hell, I wanted it to be the best book for me, waiting for this book to come out was like a peeing-my-pippets kind of thing. Obviously, I was not satisfied. But, but, but. Yeah.

From my Book Dump to yours: If anybody wants my copy–near-pristine hardcover–just tell me in the comments. I feel like someone out there would love this book more than I do. Mae wants it, and yay, I’m sending it over. :) Thanks!


Reading begets reading: I saw Elizabeth Hickey’s The Painted Kiss in the bargain bin last night, and I really really really wanted to buy it–Gustav Klimt is probably my most favorite artist evahr. But my experience with Claude and Camille has made me antsy about reading more historical fiction on painters. Until I decide (having strategically hidden the book), I’m keeping the Amazon customer reviews in a window. Bah.

7 thoughts on “marginalia || Claude and Camille, by Stephanie Cowell

  1. I tend to steer away from fictionalised stories of real people. This does sound interesting though. If you feel like whizzing it down to Oz, I’ll be happy to take your abandoned books! :-)

    Slightly off topic but there *were* two outstanding fictionalised stories of real people – ‘Girl with the Peal Earring’ by Tracey Chavelier (?) and ‘Arthur and George’ by Julian Barnes.

    1. Hello, Mae — you want it, it’s yours! I’ll email you. Hope you enjoy this one, though. Or at least like it. Haha, if not you can pass it on. ;p And I think it was Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring that got me started reading novels on artists. Well, it was the movie first, and then I went to the book. :]

  2. I’m bummed you didn’t like this book because I was thinking about picking it up at some point. Oh well, I already have Sunflowers and I’m planning on reading that soon.

    The Creation of Eve is good though, if you ever come back around to artist historical fiction.

    1. Yes, I saw your post on The Creation of Eve–definitely keeping it in mind. Oh, and I really did love Sunflowers more than Claude and Camille, for what my recommendations are worth. :)

  3. Say it ain’t so! I still haven’t read it even though its been on my shelf for a bit. I’ll probably be biased in my thoughts anyway due to my undying love for Monet’s paintings :)

    1. I had such high expectations because of my own undying love for Monet’s paintings. But, well, I personally thought this didn’t deliver–given those high expectations. But, as I’ve pointed out above, my disappointment lumps me with a minority. :) I hope you have a good experience with this. :)


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