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Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet Hardcover – April 6, 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 236 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Behind every great artist stands a woman driving him to inspiration, aspiration, and desperation, according to Cowell (Marrying Mozart), who bases her latest novel about an artist and his muse on the life of Claude Monet. Beautiful bourgeoise Camille Doncieux leaves her family and fiancé for Monet, whom Cowell depicts early on as a rebellious young man trying to capture in his paintings fleeting moments of color and light before he matures into the troubled genius whose talent exceeds his income. In an art world resistant to change, Camille remains Monet's great love as he and fellow unknowns Renoir, Pissarro, and Bazille struggle to make ends meet, but, eventually, parenthood, financial pressure, long separations, career frustrations, and romantic distractions take their toll, and even after Monet finally achieves commercial success, the couple still faces considerable difficulty. While glimpses of great men at work make absorbing reading, it's Camille who gives this story its heart. A convincing narrative about how masterpieces are created and a detailed portrait of a complex couple, Cowell's novel suggests that a fabulous, if flawed, love is the source of both the beauty and sadness of Monet's art. (Apr.)
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From Booklist

When art student Claude Monet glimpses a fetching girl at the train station en route to Paris, it is, as they say, love at first sight. When he tracks Camille Doncieux down months later and convinces her to become his model, it is an embarrassment of riches. The two become lovers, but because starving artists have always been deemed poor husband material, Camille’s family mightily objects to the affair, just as Monet’s father vehemently opposes his son’s career. The couple finds solace in the company of Monet’s fellow aspiring painters: Renoir, Pissaro, and Bazille chief among them. While commercial and critical success elude him, Monet’s love for Camille eventually succumbs to the forces of physical and financial ruin. The connection between artist and muse potentially offers a rich trove for authors, and Cowell mines the tempestuous relationship of Monet and his romantic and artistic inspiration with a nimble and discerning command as she indelibly evokes the lush demimonde of nineteenth-century Paris. --Carol Haggas

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (April 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307463214
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307463210
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (236 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #536,576 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Stephanie Cowell's `Claude & Camille' is primarily about Monet's life with his muse, his lover, and ultimately his wife, the enigmatic Camille Doncieux. `Claude & Camille' is presented in flashbacks starting in Giverny, 1908. While I am, somewhat, familiar with Monet's life, I knew little about Camille's life.

The parts of this novel, which most impressed me, were those that were not only evocative of Monet's life with Camille. I love reading about Monet's interactions with his contemporaries, and I was immediately caught up, once more, in the Café where Renoir, Bazille, Pissarro, and other great artists met to discuss their plight, possible strategies for recognition, exchange of ideas, concepts, etc. [I would like to add that I was pleasantly surprised to see Courbet make an appearance.]

I am quite interested in the alliance between Bazille and Monet. I am most grateful that Stephanie Cowell expanded on this friendship. Bazille is depicted as emotionally, as well as financially supportive of Monet's work. Monet appeared to be rather dependent upon his kindness and generosity. Additionally, I enjoyed reading about Renoir's pragmatic attempts to engage Monet. It almost seemed as if Renoir wanted to protect Monet. I so love the work of all of these artists, as well as other great masters.

As mentioned above, the most engaging and authentic parts of this novel [for me] involve Monet's friendships, his need - dedication at all costs - to be the groundbreaking artist that he was. I simply joined them and reading parts of this novel were effortless. I derived much pleasure from accompanying these artists at the Café, standing on line with them, and hoping that their work would be accepted at the prestigious Salon.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book grabbed me with the first sentence and didn't let go through the entire book. The author has a wonderful engaging style of writing and I found myself absolutely engrossed with the story. Her ability to "paint" the images of the characters in the readers mind through words really brought them to life for me. Even if you're not a fan of Monet's work you'll find this a intriguing read that's difficult to put down once you start.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Why are good things wasted on the young? When I was in elementary school we took a Greyhound bus trip to the Art Institute of Chicago to study the paintings. I saw one of Monet's water lily series. I don't recall being much impressed. Now, when this book has given the man and his work new value to me, I neither live near Chicago nor have a school to pay my way. C'est la vie!

There's a great deal more to Claude Monet than can be known from a casual glance at one painting. He was a young man once, in love with a girl even younger. Stephanie Cowell imagines them as a pair of dreamers: the man dreams of fame and wealth and the girl dreams that a poor artist in debt will give her a life of plenty someday. Their love is rocked again and again with each loss of faith. _Claude and Camille_ is the story of how it endures, until death takes the muse away from the man.

As fictional biographies go this one puts more stress on 'fiction' than 'biography,' with only the barest bones of Camille's life and character known fact. The rest is speculation, or pure imagination, as it would have to be with so little known about Camille today. I respect that Cowell told me this in the book's acknowledgements. I'm still a little uneasy with some of the liberties taken: certain plot points or scenes are good for drama, but whether they do a disservice to Camille's memory... well... it's something I could argue. I wish there were a way to know what Camille was really like. I think I probably would have liked her better in life.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Hard as it is to fathom today, Claude Monet spent the first twenty years of his career as the proverbial starving artist. (It's also hard to believe that his name was Oscar!) Stephanie Cowell tells the story of his relationship with the love of his life, Camille Doncieux, who gave up a life of privilege to be with her Claude. The novel is a series of interconnected vignettes depicting Monet as an elderly man recalling his life with Camille. His passion for painting in the new style called Impressionism, and the role Camille played not only as his wife and model, but also his muse, form the core of the book. The Monets lived the expected Bohemian lifestyle, and there are plenty of scenes in which they interact with the other artists in the movement and their friends and relations.

Unfortunately, there are some novelists who are adept at showing rather than telling, but Cowell, alas, does not seem to be one of them. Perhaps her style might best be described as prosaic, lending a sort of flatness to a narrative that might have been alive with fervor and excitement (see Susan Vreeland's Luncheon of the Boating Party, on Renoir, for comparison.) This weakness does not prevent Claude and Camille from being and interesting story, just a great one. Worth reading, however, for anyone who loves the art of Claude Monet.
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