By: Heather Webb
Format/Source: Paperback courtesy of Plume/Penguin
A mesmerizing tale of art and passion in Belle Époque France
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.
I read Heather Webb’s Becoming Josephine (review) last year and absolutely loved it, so I was happy to learn that she was coming out with a new novel this year! I admit, I’m not familiar with many of the women artists of the Belle Epoque period until I started reading historical fiction titles featuring them, so it’s also quite the history lesson for me about this period 🙂
This book will be available on 27 January 2015. Included after the cut is an excerpt from the novel as well as a giveaway for an opportunity to win a copy of the novel!
Camille dropped to her knees in the mud. Her skirts absorbed last night’s rain and the scent of sodden earth. She plunged a trowel, stolen from her neighbor’s garden, into the red clay and dug furiously, stopping only to slop hunks of earth into a wooden trough. She needed one more load to mold the portrait of Eugénie. The maid would sit for her again, regardless of her protestations.
The sun climbed the sky, though it did little to warm the damp chill. Thankfully, the heat of summer had not unleashed its force to scorch the grass and dry the earth. It made for easier digging.
Camille breathed in a lungful of air laced with the mineral scent of clay. Perfection.
“Read to me, little brother,” she said. “If you’re not going to help, that is.”
Paul dangled his legs over the edge of the boulder on which he sat. “I’ll help you lug it home, but I’m not listening to Mother’s howling over my soiled trousers again.”
Paul cared for appearances, with his proud chin and shining blond hair, his perfectly polished boots, even at the young age of thirteen. Camille grinned. It was a fatal mistake in a household with a sister obsessed with clay.
Her brother ignored her and flipped to a page in Verlaine’s Poèmes Saturniens. He read aloud.
How far away now is all that lightness
And all that innocence! Ah, backwards yet,
From black winter fled, to the Springtime of regret,
From my disgust, my boredom, my distress.
“Can’t you read anything more lively?” Camille stood and stretched her aching back. It would not do to feel so fatigued already. She had too much to accomplish today. “You’re always so melancholy.”
“As you’re always spiteful.”
She gouged her fingers into the slick clay and lobbed a fistful at Paul. It splattered his vest and the cuff of his once-pristine shirt. She laughed and gathered another handful.
“Cretin!” He jumped down from his perch and chased her through the wood toward the edge of the riverbank.
She squealed as she fled. “You’ll never catch me in your fine shoes.” Her dark hair came loose from its haphazard knot and streamed down her back. She laughed as she laced through maple and chestnut trees and leapt over underbrush. How easy her brother was to goad.
Paul threw himself forward and caught her arm, spun her around, and smashed a wet mound of earth on her cheek. Camille shrieked, then grasped his free hand and tugged him toward the water’s edge.
“Oh no you don’t. Let go!” He leaned away from her with all his weight.
“You’re covered in mud,” she said. “You need to bathe.”
With a final yank, they tumbled together into the river, a heap of flailing limbs and fabric. Paul sputtered in the cold russet water before he gained his footing on the silt bottom. “You’ll pay for this. While you sleep.”
Oh goodness, what can I say about this novel? I was drawn to Camille and the story from the first page. The first chaper really set up everything nicely with regards to Camille’s life: her passion for art and to create, her lack of interest in social conventions, her situation with her mother. It’s an intense uphill battle for Camille: she has the talent and the passion, but in a profession dominated by men and a society dictated by certain social conventions, she really has to prove herself. Hence every little victory–whether it’s a finished sculptor or proving herself in the eyes of a mentor or an artist–gets a little cheer out of me. Which in part makes the later tragedy all the more painful to read. Camille’s growing psychological problems over the course of the novel was sad and concerning–especially sad as people would associate it in with her mercurial nature, her streak of independence. But simultaneously I can feel a danger with her attitude over the course of the story, that her particular approach to her art and putting it first and foremost was pushing those closest to her away one way or another.
The focus on the creative process, the art, was wonderful to read and a little reminiscent of Robin Oliveira’s I Always Loved You (review). It’s great to read a historical fiction title focusing on sculptors for a change as it’s obviously a different medium but any creative person can relate to some of the general processes involved in the creation process.
The other characters who populate the novel were interesting in their own way and added to Camille’s story; I don’t know much about Rodin’s life but it was interesting to read how better set-up he was compared to other artists of the period. He also seemed (in my mind, at least) less tempermental compared to other artists I’ve read or know about. I enjoyed all of the character interactions, and the constant push-pull relationship between Rodin and Camille was just mesmerising to read. You can tell they love each other and are just completely consumed by the other, but there’s just so many things going on in their relationship–their love, their passion, their work, their reputations, gender politics–it’s just so complex one wonders if it could ever truly work out. But I found myself rooting for them to the bitter end.
Rodin’s Lover is a mesmerising historical fiction title. It’s wonderfully well-written and I cared for all of the characters (except Camille’s mother; her character could’ve been expanded a bit, but then again I was too mad at her for the way she treated Camille that I probably would’ve missed it anyway). I highyly recommend this novel if you’re a reader of historical fiction, like novels with an independent and decisive female character, and have an interest in art, sculptures, and the Belle Epoque period.
ABOUT HEATHER WEBB
Heather Webb is the author of historical novels BECOMING JOSEPHINE and RODIN’S LOVER published by Plume/Penguin, a freelance editor, and blogger. You may also find her contributing to award-winning writing sites including WriterUnboxed and RomanceUniversity.org. When not writing, Heather flexes her foodie skills and looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world.
Now that you’ve read my review of the novel, here’s the giveaway for a chance to win a copy! This giveaway contest is open US/Canadian readers with a choice of a print or Kindle copy of the novel. 2 winners will be selected. The winners will be selected when the book tour ends. Bonne chance!!!
Many thanks again to France Book Tours for hosting this book tour and letting me be a part of it.