Review: Madame Picasso; Anne Girard

An entertaining, escapist read (3.5 stars)

Source- review copy

Due for publication 26th August 2014 by Harlequin Mira

I read the Kindle edition. The paperback is 432 pages.

I have encountered some very good books recently (as of May 2014 when I actually read this!). As a consequence of that, my rating for this novel is possibly a bit lower than it may have been otherwise, merely as I didn’t connect with it as much as I had anticipated and in comparison to other recent reads, its storyline was perhaps a little bit weaker.

Don’t get me wrong: its premise sounded amazing. I also love fictionalised accounts of artists’ lives, having read an excellent account of the life of Claude Monet a few years ago and similarly, some others about that of Vincent Van Gough- my favourite artist. I have always been interested in what inspired the subject matter of artists’ paintings and the real stories of their lives. This book, based around cubist painter Pablo Picasso and his romance with dancer and seamstress Eva Gouel, was a must-read for me.

Set at the start of the twentieth century, when Eva Gouel moves to Paris from the countryside she has great ambitions of wealth and stardom. After acquiring work at the Moulin Rouge, the young costumer quickly captures the attention of Pablo Picasso, a rising star himself in the art world. Despite Picasso being in a long-term relationship, he is irresistibly drawn to Eva and what begins as an affair quickly escalates into love- the first real love of Picasso’s life and said to be the muse behind much of his great work.

As far as reads go, I certainly enjoyed this for its escapism and memorable Parisian settings, but I did find the main characters themselves to be pretty flat and almost repetitive in their actions on occasion. The book was also lacking any real drama and it was pretty soap-opera in its set-up and almost emotionally manipulative at its ending. I appreciated that the author has tried to remain as true to the real story of Gouel and Picasso, but for me personally, neither of them seemed to have very much ‘spark’ and didn’t spring to life from the pages in the way that I had expected.  The book and the start of their relationship itself felt quite drawn out and I must admit to my attention wandering somewhat as a consequence of that, whereas the ending felt almost condensed by contrast. The storyline just didn’t seem to have very much balance.

Eva was indeed interesting enough to read about but I couldn’t forget that at the start of this novel she seemed to have her own dreams and aspirations, which I admired her for. She ran away from home to escape her overbearing father and chase her own goals in the French capital. Once she met Picasso however and their relationship became official, she seemed to abandon these entirely and change herself merely to please him, though what woman doesn’t try in some way to change herself for a man within a romance novel?! This in my eyes made her somewhat weak, though again by the end of the novel and following some harrowing circumstances she went through (I won’t divulge those for risk of spoilers), it was apparent that she was a strong individual after all. Her character was flawed yet believable. These aspects of the novel were poignant and powerful enough to tug on my heartstrings- and engaged my interest in the storyline again.

I must confess that I also didn’t actually like how Picasso was portrayed in this book however- despite the social conventions and expectations of the times he doesn’t do the male sex any favours with all of his sleazy philandering. That said, his mistress, Fernande, does women a real disservice too! I think that had this book had more of a focus on the back-story of the paintings and the works of Picasso and less on sex and romance then it would have appealed more to me. The relationship between Eva and Picasso comes across as sort of sordid and is perceived that way by the rest of his social group (something of a double standard there I feel) when I genuinely never believed this to be the case. Maybe I’m just too much of a romantic??

Personally, I much preferred reading about the secondary characters within this story, in particular Gertrude Stein and some of the other renowned artists and performers of the day. Their bourgeoisie, bohemian lifestyles are wonderfully portrayed and I actually found myself keen to know more about them. Other aspects I wholeheartedly enjoyed: the vibrant, atmospheric settings of Paris and the glorious cabaret decadence of The Moulin Rouge, the portrayal of Picasso’s friendship with other artists at the time and the level of detail provided about his tumultuous childhood. The depth of historical and social detail imparted throughout the plot also worked beautifully, it is clear that the author’s research has been impeccable. I could almost feel myself transported to the streets of Paris at times during this book.

Madame Picasso was an entertaining escapist read that I feel would be enjoyed by fans of historical romance or those who have an interest in the life of Picasso. I would also like to read more from Anne Girard in future as a consequence of picking up this book.

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