Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Madame Picasso

Title:  Madame Picasso
Author:  Anne Girard
Publication Information:  Harlequin MIRA. 2014. 432 pages.
ISBN:  0778316351 / 978-0778316350

Book Source:  I received this book through a publisher's giveaway free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "Who truly knew the private world of any two people and what their limits were with one another?"

Several books I have read over the past couple of years present a fictionalized account of a relationship of a famous person of history:

  • Mrs. Hemingway is the story of the four wives of Ernest Hemingway.
  • Under the Wide and Starry Sky is the story of Fanny Osbourne and Robert Loius Stevenson.
  • I Always Loved You is about the relationship between Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt.
  • Mrs. Poe tells the story of Edgar Allen Poe, his wife Virginia, and Frances "Fanny" Osgood.
  • The Paris Wife is another story about Ernest Hemingway and his marriage to Elizabeth Hadley Richardson.
Each book shares the idea of depicting both a relationship and a time in history. They all do so with a varying degree of success and a shifting balance between the history and the individual story.

Madame Picasso, as the title implies, is a story about Pablo Picasso. Over the course of his life, Picasso had relationships with many women. Seven of the relationships are considered serious - lasting a length of time and having an impact on his art. The women in his life often became the muse for the artist. That intense impact is wonderfully captured in this book.

This book tells the story of a four year period in Picasso's life when he meets and becomes involved with Eva Gouel, or Marcell Humbert as she is called in Paris.  Eva was a young Polish woman, who runs away from home as her parents tried to push her into the expected life of marriage and housekeeping.

She comes to Paris to make her way and finds a job as a seamstress at the Moulin Rouge. It is in the glitter and glamour of Paris that she meets Picasso. At the time, Picasso is in a long standing relationship with an artist's model named Fernande Olivier. The two are an accepted couple in their social circle to the point that Fernande often refers to herself as Madame Picasso.

The relationship between Picasso and Eva grows. What happens in this love triangle and how is the crux of this book. Warning:  If you don't already know the story of Picasso and Eva, please do not research it before reading this book. Knowing how it ends will definitely impact your reaction to the story. The events are strong enough that the author has included an explanation in an interview included with the book. "We can't judge decision too harshly unless we have been not only in that place, but in their mind and heart." Reading this book will not be the same experience if you know how it ends.

The core of this book is very much a relationship between two individuals. In that way, this book is a romance novel. As a romance, the book's descriptions are too explicit and too frequent for my taste. I don't have a need to know that Picasso would paint in the nude, having just gotten out from his bed where Eva still lounged. Physical appearance is an important trait to both, and changes in physical appearance become a key element in the book, but the book does not need as many descriptions of physical acts as were present.

Other than that, the book is fascinating for its historical context. It brings to life the passion and intensity of Picasso. Surrounding him are other individuals from that time period. People like Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, poet Guillaume Apollinaire, painter Louis Marcoussis, and cubist painter Georges Braque. This historical framework, for me, is one of the most interesting aspects of the book.

Eva's character is also beautifully drawn through the book. Her strength and independence shine through as do her caring and vulnerability. According to the Author's Note, the inspiration for the details of the character comes primarily from studying Picasso's works that depict Eva and from Eva's correspondence with Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas. As such, it appears that great care has been given to provide historical accuracy to the love story.

"Relationships are a journey." This book takes us on an emotional journey through this very intense relationship.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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