Friday, January 23, 2015

Review and Giveaway: RODIN'S LOVER by Heather Webb

Written with a passion and conviction worthy of the sculptor herself, Heather Webb's new novel RODIN'S LOVER (Plume, January 2015) explores the tumultuous life, troubled psyche, and splendid achievements of Camille Claudel, student, protégée and rival of artist Auguste Rodin. Born in an era that expected bourgeoise women to reflect their husbands' glory, Camille determines instead to amplify her own. Gifted with the skills, vision and tenacity necessary to succeed as an artist, she confronts head-on the prejudices and condescension of the male artistic establishment, showing pieces in Salon exhibitions and even earning a civic commission. But Camille's success does not come without price--like a file on fine marble, the constant strife wears away at her mental and emotional stability, exacerbating paranoid and schizophrenic tendencies. Her romantic relationship with Rodin becomes both a crucible of creativity and the catalyst of the tortured artist's ultimate undoing.

Camille at work
Webb's Camille is as entrancing and rough-hewn as one of her statues. The novel opens with her tussling with her beloved brother, shirking lessons to gather clay in the woods, and vowing to a raven, under a full moon, to pursue her dreams. Once in Paris, she devours the sights, sounds and smells of the city with ravenous delight and watches, with endearing curiosity, a male model undress before the class on the first day of art school. She toys with the suitors her mother insists she meet, charming them into abandoning the hunt. She loses herself for hours in her quest to coax beauty from unformed lumps of earth and resistant rock. She pursues the best models and the finest teachers, her belief in herself and her devotion to her calling never wavering. Yet for all her passion and joie de vivre, Camille has an abrasive side, one that Webb never shirks from depicting. The seeds of Camille's mental illness sprout early, nourished by the critical waters of her mother's rejection. Ever fearful of abandonment, Camille refuses to allow others close, especially women. She rebuffs overtures of friendship and systematically destroys the few attachments that manage to take hold. Webb is careful to associate Camille's increasing alienation with descriptions of the physical symptoms that assail her (metallic tastes, vision problems, hallucinations, and an insidious Voice that ever murmurs suspicious suggestions in her ear), inspiring sympathy for rather than annoyance with the character. The reader experiences the unravelling of the artist's promise and very self in real time and marvels that Camille accomplishes all she does, given the panoply of internal and external obstacles arrayed against her.

Webb's Rodin pales in comparison to the vibrant, tormented Camille. Waging his own battle against the establishment, he yearns for acceptance by the state yet refuses to sculpt in the style that would earn him ready praise. His collaboration and liaison with Camille becomes the source of inspiration and passion he needs to lift his work to a level of genius that even the advocates of decency and civic virtue can't ignore. But just as Rodin can't shake his need for approval--though he might declare otherwise--he cannot abandon Rose, his lover of twenty years, despite his impassioned avowals of love for Camille. He supports Camille in every way he can, training her, introducing her to critics, buying supplies and renting studio space, treating her to holidays and dinners, yet he refuses to commit himself fully to her. Rodin's bourgeois hesitancy leads the reader to wonder whether Camille's accusations that Rodin steals her ideas and profits from her work are simply the ravings of a disturbed mind. In any case, Webb's depiction of the artists' affair reflects the nagging question of whether Camille would have achieved success without Rodin's help back onto the artist himself. Wedded to his tired housekeeper and bourgeois values, Rodin might never have surpassed the limits of circumstance if not coaxed beyond them by the passion and courage of Camille.

In this, her second novel, Heather Webb tackles weighty subjects: mental illness, envy, oppression, illicit love. That she does so in a way that preserves Camille's integrity and prevents her from becoming an object of pity testifies to Webb's skill as a writer. This novel of passion and power in Belle Époque France both satisfies and inspires, illuminating an artist who spent the last thirty years of her life in an asylum and still, to this day, lingers in the shadow of man. Thanks to Webb, that shadow has become all the shorter.

Tender yet resolute, soulful but never dark, RODIN'S LOVER pulses with the sensuous tempo of a lover's waltz. Deeper and defter than Webb's debut, it promises even richer work to come.

Heather Webb is the author of historical novels BECOMING JOSEPHINE (Plume, 2013) and RODIN'S LOVER (Plume, 2015), a freelance editor, and blogger. You may also find her contributing to award-winning writing sites including Writer Unboxed and Romance University. When not writing, Heather flexes her foodie skills and looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world. Visit her website and her blog. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


This review is part of the RODIN'S LOVER book tour organized by France Book Tours. Please visit the France Book Tours website for additional information and to read other reviews of Heather's book. France Book Tours has organized a giveaway of two copies of the novel, open to readers in the USA and Canada. Fill out the form at the France Book Tours website and enter today!


Anonymous said...

Oh wow, this is so wonderful, I guess the type of review every writer dreams of. Thanks so much, and I'm you enjoyed this book very much. Emma at France Book Tours

Julianne Douglas said...

Thank you for having me on the tour, Emma! So glad to be able to help get the word out about Heather's book.

cyn209 said...

my favorite setting is anywhere!!!
I love to read about all places!!!
thank you for the giveaway!!!

Julianne Douglas said...

You're welcome, cyn209! Just be aware it's a giveaway involving all the blogs that have hosted Heather during the tour, so the pool of entrants will be pretty large. Good luck, though! :)

Lucy said...

So nice that you included illustrations of Claudel and her work. Your insights into Webb's treatment of her mental illness add a lot of depth to this review! In these real lives, despite such an obstacle, love and inspiration could still have their day, even if much sorrow also marked their relationship.

Julianne Douglas said...

So true, Lucy!

mzjohansen said...

I was so grateful to have been able to read an ARC of this book. It is one of the best books that I have had the pleasure to read in a long time!

Jeannine Atkins said...

I love the phrasing and theme of the shadow becoming shorter. I look forward to reading this novel!

Julianne Douglas said...

Thank you, Jeannine! I hope you enjoy Heather's book. And Marie, I'm glad you enjoyed it as much as I did. Spread the word!

Carol L. said...

What a wonderful review. Thank you. I have read so many good things about Rodin's Lover. I can't wait to read it. Thanks again.
Carol L
Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

Julianne Douglas said...

Thank you, Carol! But be sure to follow the link and fill out the form to enter the drawing. Leaving a comment here won't work, since it's a tour-wide contest. Don't want you to miss out. :)