Claude & Camille by Stephanie Cowell: Book Review

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Claude & Camille Book Cover

3 Stars

This is the story of Claude Monet; his great love, Camille Doncieux; and their life as they struggle together in the years before his fame.

I started reading this not knowing anything about Monet except that I used to have a print of one of his works hanging in my bedroom. I also don’t know much about art except that I know what I like. I have enjoyed reading fiction about art and artists in the past, so I thought I’d give this a try.

It was okay. It is always amazing to me that artists who are generally accepted to be–I don’t know, geniuses?–had to struggle so hard to be recognized back when they first started out, and sometimes even throughout their entire lives. I guess that just goes to show that people are slow to accept change.

The main reason that this got three stars is that it’s written in a style that’s not really for me. It felt like the author tried to stick very closely to the facts, which I do respect, but that made it feel more like I was reading a biography rather than fiction. I read very, very little non-fiction, so that wasn’t a style that worked for me. I’m willing to sacrifice a little truth for a good story! Just ask my husband! 😉

The angle of approaching Monet’s life through his relationship with Camille also didn’t quite work for me. It was a stormy relationship, and I’m not one for that kind of drama in real life or the printed page. I want to smack people around, and say, “If you’re that unhappy, do something about it!”

I did enjoy reading about Monet’s relationships with the other early Impressionists. I had no idea that all these guys hung out together. Reading a list of Monet’s friends is like reading a “Who’s Who” of the art world. Renoir, Pissarro, Degas, Manet, Cézanne–I know there are more that I’m forgetting. I found myself wishing that I could read more about those relationships. What was included was good and taught me a lot, I just wanted more. I was really curious about Frédéric Bazille. I’ve never heard of him, but he was a fascinating character. There was always a lot going on behind the scenes with him, and I really wanted to know more.

I do always find myself wishing that publishers would just go ahead and print reproductions of the works in books about art. I knew a few of the paintings that were mentioned, and I would probably recognize more if I saw them, but it would be nice to be able to see Monet’s Water Lilies series as I read about it.

This was a good book, there were just a few things that could have made it better for me. I know that not everyone’s taste is the same as mine, so there are readers who will enjoy this a lot. Die-hard fans of Monet and readers who regularly read biographies will be among them.

Thanks to Random House for sending me an ARC for review.

The Woman in the Green Dress, the painting that sort of started Monet’s career and his relationship with Camille.

The Woman in the Green Dress painting by Monet

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  1. The one I really wanted it for was The Da Vinci Code. My mom finally bought me the illustrated edition, and it was much easier to follow along and see what he was going on about.

  2. I have this one on my shelf and am hoping to get to it soon. I think its a great idea to have photos of the paintings mentioned included with the book. I thought the same thing when I was reading Girl with a Pearl Earring.

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