As I received an advanced copy of this book, and it being one I couldn’t wait to get my hands on, I read Rodin’s Lover by Heather Webb in almost one day, and already a few weeks ago. My point in stating that is to let you know I haven’t stopped thinking about it since! It is ticking away at each free minute of my mind. Yes, that’s how much Camille Claudel, the sculptress of late 19th century France who was mentored by the sculptor Auguste Rodin, has permeated my sub-conscious as well as conscious mind. Not only because of her fabulous creative nature, or her dramatic story, but it must also be because of Heather’s absorbing writing style and the vitality she put into the characters and the story.
I have an enormous love of art history, and albeit having opted in the end for a full general history degree instead of a specific art history degree, there isn’t anything up for contention with those who know me about the history of art being one of my favorite subjects. Over the years, though sculpture hasn’t been the highest in art categories for me, I have enjoyed seeing a Rodin supervised cast of the sculpture called “The Thinker” which resides in glorified thought over the Cleveland Museum of Art (only 27 were ever made). Learning of Camille a little beforehand, and then when Heather wrote of her last year during my Women in History series (you can read that HERE), I was really compelled to learn more about this passionate woman’s life.
Unfortunate many may say (because they will judge her and they will judge me), but I really could relate to Camille in several ways–from her overwhelming ardor to her impulsive nature to her need to be loved for herself and her work. To be a woman and have a passion that you don’t want limits put on, or to be told you should be doing something more appropriate than creating, to fight her battles to pursue dreams, and to be consumed by those dreams….her desires really hit home to me, as I am also passionate and don’t like many artistic/writing boundaries (and had I lived in the 1800s wouldn’t have liked the boundaries put on females as a whole).
I remember being in the 10-year-old range and running through our back forest down to the river bed, which had a back ravine wall of clay. I sloshed amid the water, past the stones, and dug up the clay with my own hands, smelling its earthiness and squeezing it, and carried it home (sometimes losing one boot in the process) and then I molded things with my hands. Silly little bowls or something, but it made me feel so alive and untethered. Of course, I was nowhere near talented like Camille, but the experience is something I will never forget. Camille’s digging in the dirt in the novel made me chuckle and took me back to that time and place. I feel so glad to have been born in this time period, where I could wear pants and get dirty and have no one really care. So my own personality, coupled with stellar characterization and depth of emotion formed by Heather, truly had me connected to Camille and mesmerized from the beginning of the novel. From the smell of the clay on Camille’s hands, I didn’t put it down.
In the first half of the novel, Heather really showed us the best parts of Camille and her life, which led up to us being able to understand any sort of emotional trials that came for her later in life. Camille had trials from the start, but she was happy and her light was shining. She was empowered and I admired how she didn’t let anyone talk her out of what she wanted. Heather’s supporting characters were also dimensional, such as Camille’s angry mother and her clingy little brother of whom she gave a wealth of encouragement and support. I could see what she fought against with her family, but also how much care she gave to those she truly loved. When she gave her heart, she truly gave it, to her art and to those she loved. Sure, she was independent, but I don’t see what is so wrong with that? She knew what she wanted and who she was and she never wavered from that. See, I don’t judge Camille like some might. I cried for her. Heather really tore my insides out with Camille’s story.
When the next half of the book turned toward the next phase of Camille’s life, with the stress of money for the atelier, supplies, and other expenses, and as Rodin became her mentor and then her lover, the book became a bit darker and more engrossing. Eventually, Camille’s best friend and best model leaves her behind, her family life is rough as her mother doesn’t want anything to do with her and her brother finds God, her atelier companion and friend leaves to get married, and Rodin pushes her into a love affair with him even when she tries to keep her wits about her and say no. In my mind, I don’t really get Rodin, just like Camille didn’t in regards to her. He was driven by his love for her, consumed by her in his heart and in his artwork, yet he refuses to leave the woman Rose that he’s lived with basically like a roommate for years, even when the woman attacks Camille. I don’t find his actions admirable at all.
Eventually, she splits for good with him, and she has some profound years of sculpture where she tries new techniques that are opposite of Rodin (in hopes that she will stop being compared to him), but this wasn’t highlighted in the book. I would have liked to read another section about the time between her split with him and her admittance to the institution. The gaps in her life just really wanted to make me learn more about her though, and I completely understand that Heather couldn’t have this come out as a 700 page book. I also know that this particular book wasn’t a biography, but more about the love affair between Rodin and Claudel. I think it stayed true to its premise. It’s a positive that I wanted to know more.
History, and the book takes this spin, dictates that Camille probably suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. As we watch this unwind in the book, Heather takes a slow building and empathetic approach. With the scenes and scenarios the book portrayed, I think in most cases I would have been paranoid too if I was Camille! I found justification in each reason why she was continually upset. As an advocate for mental illness however, I do feel that she handled the portrayal of Camille’s possible illness with great compassion. The layers that Heather created in dealing with Camille and her mind were eloquent and serrated both, as she gives us the light mixed with the dark in a graceful dance much like the edges of Camille’s work.
I sure wish the title of this book wasn’t Rodin’s Lover, because Camille Claudel was so much more than Rodin’s lover. She held her own at a time when women weren’t allowed to be independent or regarded as any kind of artist. She was extremely talented and knew no boundaries. Heather captures her courage, energy, passion, and essence in a way that made me admire and revere Camille not only for her creative talent, but for her boldness. Throughout the book, Heather sculpts a time period and place that we can smell, feel, and almost taste, which sent my senses as well as my emotions into overdrive.
A truly engaging and captivating novel for art lovers as well as those who like the countryside of France and the city streets of Paris. The art, literary, and music scene is truly brought to life, both the joys of those professions as well as the heartaches. As a writer, I intrinsically was enthralled by the mentions of Hugo and Zola, two huge literary powerhouses from that time. Seeing their lives intertwine at dinner parties, with the luscious descriptions from the clothing worn to the food prepared, was thrilling and tantalizing.
This sophomore effort by Heather in Rodin’s Lover is worth 5 stars as she handles the torturous and tumultuous love affair between Rodin and Claudel with such dramatic flair as well as Camille’s mind with such grace and care. This is one book that will appeal to history lovers of art or those who have a penchant for 19th Century France, as well as those who want to read stories of extraordinary women who defied all boundaries to the point of madness. This is another lasting tribute to a creative women’s voice of the past that you’ll want to read in one sitting from a very passionate and authentic historical fiction author who writes books with enough momentum that you can never wait until the next one.
Rodin’s Lover, Synopsis~
Genre: Historical Fiction
A mesmerizing tale of art and passion in Belle Époque France.
As a woman, aspiring sculptor Camille Claudel has plenty of critics, especially her ultra-traditional mother. But when Auguste Rodin makes Camille his apprentice—and his muse—their passion inspires groundbreaking works. Yet, Camille’s success is overshadowed by her lover’s rising star, and her obsessions cross the line into madness.
Rodin’s Lover brings to life the volatile love affair between one of the era’s greatest artists and a woman entwined in a tragic dilemma she cannot escape.
Advanced Praise for Rodin’s Lover~
“Rodin’s Lover is a textured historical novel that captures the indomitable spirit of artist Camille Claudel, a woman whose mighty talent was nearly eclipsed by her potent love for fellow artist Auguste Rodin. Can two passionate, creative talents thrive together or will one flame inevitably consume the other? Webb gracefully explores this ignitable relationship while illuminating Claudel’s untold heartbreak and evocative artwork. A story of human emotion, once raw and malleable, now preserved to lasting stone.” ~ Sarah McCoy, New York Times, USA Today and international bestselling author of The Baker’s Daughter
“Rodin’s Lover is the story of Camille Claudel–one of history’s boldest and most brilliant artists. Forced to choose between a torturous love affair and the art that consumed her, Claudel is an audacious and authentic character who deserves to be remembered. RODIN’S LOVER is epic and unflinching–a book you won’t soon forget.” –Deanna Raybourn, NYT bestselling author and Rita Winner of City of Jasmine waltz
“Rodin’s Lover is an evocative portrait of the talented and explosive Camille Claudel who struggled between passion as the lover of Rodin and recognition as an innovative sculptor in her own right. From smoky cafés to clay-streaked ateliers, Heather Webb has created a vivid picture of Belle Époque Paris.” –Jessica Brockmole, author of Letters from Skye
“Dazzling!….. In Rodin’s Lover, author Heather Webb brings to life, with vivid detail, the story of brilliant and tormented sculptress Camille Claudel and the epic love affair with the legendary sculptor who worshiped her. Deeply moving and meticulously researched, this book will capture your heart, then hold it tightly long after the final page.” –Anne Girard, author of Madame Picasso
“A rich, sensuous novel…[was] written with great empathy for the very human Rodin and his lover, this novel of the visceral world of the 19th century Paris ateliers, of clay-stained dresses and fingernails, lithe models who vow to remain and then go, family love which stays through all difficulties and talent which endures, comes vividly to life.” –Stephanie Cowell, author of Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet
“Rodin’s Lover is a taut and engrossing look at sexism in the arts through the eyes of a lesser known figure, Camille Claudel, inspiring the reader to examine what’s changed and what hasn’t.” –Julie Kibler, bestselling author of Calling Me Home
Buy the Book~
Author Heather Webb, Biography~
Heather Webb grew up a military brat and naturally became obsessed with travel, culture, and languages. She put her degrees to good use teaching high school French for nearly a decade before turning to full-time novel-writing and freelance editing.
Her debut, BECOMING JOSEPHINE, released January 2014 from Plume/Penguin. Her forthcoming novel, RODIN’S LOVER, will release in winter of 2015.
When not writing, Heather flexes her foodie skills or looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world.
Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/rodinsloverblogtour/
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