Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Rodin's Lover by Heather Webb

She was a fireball and a prodigy. He was a genius. Their art was revolutionary. Sparks flew between and around them...She burnt out much too soon.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, seventeen year-old Camille Claudel dreams of becoming a famous sculptor, but becoming a female artist means pushing the boundaries of convention a little too far.

In Paris Camille will be able to attend art school and possibly have an atelier of her own. Thus, the Claudel family relocates in search of better opportunities for their two most talented offsprings.

Camille soon overshadows her classmates in art school, and her private tutor, a renowned sculptor, sees greatness in her. When he wins a prestigious prize and must leave Paris for Rome, he convinces his friend Auguste Rodin to nurture Camille's talent. But what's with this fiery young beauty who manages to make Rodin feel so uncertain yet capable of tackling anything?!

Rodin's Lover reverberates with intensity. I could picture the unfolding story in my mind as if I were watching a movie.
I have read passages of a book on Mendeleev's quest to organize the chemical elements into a reasonable system. The book is after my own heart, but I have never been able to finish it because I become overwhelmed by emotion to the point that I feel I am on fire, blood pumping in my ears, and bells tolling in my chest. That was the effect Rodin's Lover had on me. I felt uncomfortably aglow, feeling intensely the chemistry between Rodin and Camille--not only the measure of their desire for each other but their intellectual compatibility as well.

Heather Webb has managed quite a feat: to penetrate the mind of a genius, shed light on the chaos that sometimes reigns inside, and expose his creative process. Rodin has come alive in all his glory and complexity: his desires, his dreams, his energy and all-consuming passion...And so has Camille. Webb has zeroed in on how it must have felt as a talented woman to work in a field dominated by men and be overshadowed by them. It is an issue as timely in this day and age as it was at the end of the nineteenth century.

It is said that the line that divides genius and madness is a fine one; Webb has masterfully made it blurry. In Camille there is virtually no difference between a driven individual and an obsessed one.

"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 mod the portrait of Eugenie. The maid would sit for her again, regardless of her protestations." Opening Sentences. 

Rodin's Lover is a biographical novel about the life of French scuptor and artist, Camille Claudel. Despite her mother's interference, Camille's father arranged for her to study art in a time when women were banned from doing so. She came under the guidance of Auguste Rodin, and they soon fell in love and began an affair. After an unwanted abortion, Camille became paranoid and possibly schizophrenic, prone to outbursts. She voluntarily committed herself to a psychiatric hospital, but when doctors tried to release her, her mother intervened and insisted she be kept there. 

Set in France during the 1900's, Rodin's Lover is a comprehensive telling of a young woman who defied social norms and became a beloved sculptor. Like many biographical novels, the pace slows sometimes, but the story was compelling enough to keep me reading. The author portrayed Camille in a most sympathetic way, and I found her fascinating for her courage, dedication to her work, and willingness to learn. The author also did a thorough job of describing art techniques and the various historical characters in a very real, believable way. A lovely, but sad story. 

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