Book Review for: “Claude and Camille”
Written by: Stephanie Cowell
Cowell pens a poignant tale full of spirit and the drive to succeed with “Claude and Camille,” the story of Monet and the muse that was his wife, Camille Doncieux.
The novel opens with a young Monet living on the French coast in a town called Le Havre. His father owns a nautical store and makes a modest living. Monet is known for his caricatures, but his older friend, Boudin, soon interests him in landscapes. Monet goes to study in Paris against his father’s wishes.
Monet’s artistic talent grows and he soon makes friends: Manet, Bazille, Renoir, and Pissarro. While talented, the struggling artist and his friends live in abject poverty.
Camille Doncieux soon captures young Monet’s attention. Camille is from a well-to-do family and is engaged. Monet hungers to paint her and convinces her to accompany him and his friend, Bazille, to the countryside. They stay there for a week and then Camille is gone. Monet can’t forget her. When he sees her months later, he convinces her to pose for him again, this time in a green dress. Shortly after that, Camille becomes his lover and forsakes her well-do-do life.
Monet loves Camille deeply, but he’s so poor, he can’t give her the life that she’s left behind. As Monet struggles to find success as an artist, will Camille stay with him or go back to the secure, yet dull life she led before?
Cowell has captured the life and times of Monet with an uncompromising pen – embodying Monet’s own uncompromising artistic nature. The story flows in a liner fashion for the most part with brief interludes to the end of Monet’s life as he paints water lilies.
Cowell makes the reader feel as if they are there, in the moment, painting alongside Monet, the writing is a bit weighty, which slows the story down in some places and makes for a slow, careful read so the reader doesn’t miss something.
Cowell does a riveting job showing the reader the many facets of Claude and Camille. Both are determined and driven, yet both are haunted – Monet by the fear of failure, Camille, by a lack of security.
Cowell paints the setting, Paris/France in the mid 1800’s, as vividly as a Monet landscape.
Both Monet and Camille come across as real, with Cowell depicting them in their finest and weakest moments. Both love passionately, yet their insecurities are ones that many can sympathize with.
“Claude and Camille” is a fascinating read, taking a look at the roots of impressionism and the love that inspired a true artist.
Reviewed by: S. Burkhart
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