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"Rodin's Lover: A Novel" by Heather Webb

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"Rodin's Lover: A Novel" by Heather Webb

Post by fljustice » Sun December 28th, 2014, 9:31 pm

From the blurb:

"As a woman, aspiring sculptor Camille Claudel has plenty of critics, especially her ultra-traditional mother. But when Auguste Rodin makes Camille his apprentice—and his muse—their passion inspires groundbreaking works. Yet, Camille’s success is overshadowed by her lover’s rising star, and her obsessions cross the line into madness. Rodin’s Lover brings to life the volatile love affair between one of the era’s greatest artists and a woman entwined in a tragic dilemma she cannot escape."

My Review:

I've visited the Rodin museum in Paris twice and was aware of Camille Claudel's work and her relationship with the famous sculptor, but not the story behind the woman and artist. Her life is both sad and uplifting. I finished the book with a profound sense of sadness about the toll that mental illness (most likely schizophrenia) took on a talented woman's life. It was only after some thought, that I realized the disease also provided a strength that allowed Claudel to flout social norms in the late 19th century and assert her right to be a working artist in spite of her gender. She was obsessed with her work and would allow nothing to stand in her way--including her consuming love for Auguste Rodin. It was heartbreaking to see how she alienated friends and family as the disease disordered her mind while, at the same time, encouraging to see how she battled her demons with hard work and talent, which won her the recognition she craved.

At the heart of the story is love, obsession, and madness--Claudel's love of a man, her obsession with her work, and the madness that cripples and feeds both. Heather Webb does a fine job teasing apart these tightly knotted strands to give us a clear-eyed portrait of two brilliant artists and their effect on one another's lives and work. The author at first introduces hints to Claudel's affliction and strengths, circling back time and again as the symptoms grow worse and the consequences more dire. She expertly weaves in tiny historical details such as the need for women to fill out extensive forms in order to receive permission from the police to wear trousers or the "human zoo" exhibits that (dis)graced the Exposition Universelle (also the site of the Eiffel Tower).

My only complaint is the character of Rodin, which seemed a little flat and staid, almost bourgeois. He professed his love for Claudel and assisted her in many ways great and small, except in the only way she wanted--his exclusive love. The artist seemed more interested in his own reputation than his art--of course that might have been exactly how Webb saw his character and used it to portray a foil for the explosive Claudel. In which case, she succeeded. However, as a fiction reader, I wanted a little more fire from such an edgy artist and lover. A small flaw for a good read, highly recommended.

Note: This review is based on an Advance Reader's Copy and uncorrected proof provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Faith L. Justice, Author Website

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