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The Forest Lover Hardcover – February 5, 2004

4.1 out of 5 stars 87 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Novelist Susan Vreeland has made a career of fictionalizing the lives of artists and of particular paintings, like Artemisia Gentileschi¹s magnificent Judith in The Passion of Artemisia. In her third novel, The Forest Lover, Vreeland's subject is the courageous Canadian painter Emily Carr, who traveled through native villages and wilderness of British Columbia in the early 1900s, often alone, on a quest to paint totem poles and other artifacts before the indigenous traditions died out and the poles were destroyed or sold. Vreeland's Carr is deeply respectful of the people she meets, and is rewarded with their trust and their stories. She brings the same sensitivity with her to Paris to see the new art, is exhibited at the Salon d'Automne, and returns to Vancouver in 1912 with a style so direct, and colors so expressive, that a conservative local reviewer dubs her a wild beast, literally, a Fauve. Vreeland's strength is in the tacks of emotion during dialogue, and in her nimble, exact prose. As she depicts her, Carr is an endearing and believable balance of sensitivity and determination‹an artist of life as well as a remarkable painter. --Regina Marler

From Publishers Weekly

The Canadian artist Emily Carr (1871- 1945) could be a feminist icon. Spirited and courageous, inspired by an inner vision of "distortion for expression" and by a mission to capture on canvas the starkly fierce totem poles carved by the Indian tribes of British Columbia, Carr endured the disapproval of her family and of society at large until her belated vindication. One of the pleasures of this beguiling novel based on Carr's life is the way Vreeland (Girl in Hyacinth Blue) herself has acquired a painter's eye; her descriptions of Carr's works are faithful evocations of the artist's dazzling colors and craft. No art schools taught the techniques that Carr felt suitable to the immense, rugged landscape of British Columbia. Moreover, when she ventured into isolated tribal villages and befriended the natives, braving physical discomfort and sometimes real danger, she was accused of "unwholesome socializing with primitives." Drawing on Carr's many journals, Vreeland imagines her experiences in remote areas of B.C. as well as in Victoria, Vancouver and (briefly) France. There are few dramatic climaxes; instead, Vreeland emphasizes Carr's relationships with her rigidly conventional siblings and with her mentors and colleagues. She vividly describes the obstacles Carr faced when she ventured into the wilderness and in her periods of near poverty and self-doubt. A fictitious French fur trader introduces a romantic element, which may offend purists. Much of the suspense comes through Carr's affectionate relationship with a real woman, Sophie Frank, a Squamish basket maker who loses nine children to white men's diseases. Adding to Sophie's emotional desolation is the torment introduced by inflexible Christian dogma that alienates tribes from their native traditions and spiritual beliefs. Vreeland provides this historical background with the same authoritative detail that she brings to the Victorian culture that challenged Carr's pioneering efforts. Her robust narrative should do much to establish Carr's significance in the world of modern art.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Series: Vreeland, Susan
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (February 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670032670
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670032679
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #742,644 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
After being immersed in delicious piles of children's & YA books I changed course long enough to read "The Forest Lover." 1st, because long ago I was intrigued by Emily Carr's art; 2nd, our lifetimes overlapped; 3rd, the author's "Girl in Hyacinth Blue" is near the top of my *Vermeer List*; and 4th, for the joy of reading about a woman with great talents who overcame many obstacles including three inflexible, stuffily 'religious' sisters.
In the *Author's Afterword* Vreeland says her story is a look at Carr's 'courageous and extraordinary life'(p.329). My favorite quotation by the artist is when she exclaimed late in life: "DON'T PICKLE ME AWAY AS A DONE" (p.331). Even after two heart attacks and a stroke Emily Carr was pushing herself around on a makeshift wheeled crate in order to keep painting. She died in 1945 at age 74.
Her paintings reflected her spirit as well as the spirit of the forests and native people she grew to love. She was intrepid; the paintings astonishing. She was 'gutsy' and her art could be disturbing. They sometimes mirrored her melancholy; hers was a lonely life. I see echoes of Barbara Kingsolver's "Poisonwood Bible" in Vreeland's commentary on the miserable treatment natives were handed out by bureaucrats and 'men of God'. The torments they caused!
Susan Vreeland was writing this book for 17 years. She said "In paint and words, Emily Carr casts a tall shadow, one which has accompanied me in western forests" - this from her experience kayacking into the north country to search for remnants of the totem poles Carr had sacrificed so much to capture on canvas.
Some reviewers have carped about Vreeland introducing fictional characters and relationships in her story.
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Format: Hardcover
I discovered Emily Carr's paintings during a visit to the Vancouver Art Gallery several years ago. I was drawn to her work and amazed that I hadn't heard or seen it before, since I have worked as an art curator and art historian for many years. Having written about women artists, I was intrigued with her story and pleased to see that the Canadian government had a stamp honoring her. I bought a catalogue of her work and have been delighted to introduce her to others. I was interested when I learned that Susan Vreeland had written a fictionalized account of her life. I have to agree with several other reviewers that it is an uneven book and much of the dialogue is artifical and stilted. I stuck with it and was rewarded after the first 100 pages as the author began to describe Emily's experiences in France as she sought to express her feelings through painting. The book gains strength and I found it quite compelling in describing the struggle of a painter and the artist's deep connection with her subject matter. However the book is diminished because it needs more color reproductions of her work. The book made me seek out my catalog of Emily Carr paintings and I enjoyed looking at the images as I read. The author talks about the number of years she worked on the book and the uneven structure suggests that she didn't fully resolve the issues. Yet for all that, it ended strongly and I was swept into the passion of this lonely and sensitive artist and her deep feeling for the culture and landscape of the northwest.
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Format: Hardcover
As well-written and revealing as THE PASSION OF ARTEMISIA, the style of THE FOREST LOVER couldn't be more different from its best-selling predecessor. It's bolder, harder, it moves more abruptly, like the style of art and the artist it follows. Until I read this book, I'd never heard of Emily Carr, but I'd been to the forests of British Columbia and I live among the wild greenery of northern Oregon, so I read it for the forest in its title. Along the way, I did a bit of minor research into the fascinating explorer Vreeland depicts so well, and I discovered that her art is, as she struggles to comphrehend in the book, about soul -- yours and your subject's, mixed together on the canvas.

I haven't done enough research to know how many historical liberties Vreeland has taken in her story, but I really don't care. Read this book if you love art, soul, the northern forests, wilderness, people with gumption. Especially if it's all-of-the-above. I'm not a big art enthusiast, so I imagine someone who is will get even more pleasure from the experience.
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Format: Hardcover
Vreeland has a profound appreciation for art and the excruciating process involved in creativity, especially in the case of Emil Carr, an artist who painted with a spirit unrecognized by a priggish society. Vreeland's previous novels, including The Girl in Hyacinth Blue and The Passion of Artemesia, are indicative of the writer's respect for the artist's life.

Vreeland's prose is rich with understanding: the nature of color, the way an artist views the world and the unavoidable drive to create that is the mark of a true artist. Emily Carr is one of those driven, compulsive painters whose life is defined by her art and her need to express her own vision.

Carr, 1841-1945, is an original, an artist who visually defines a culture, seeking communion with her surroundings and the indigenous native population of British Colombia. Primitive in a way, Carr's vision exemplifies the simplicity of the native lifestyle, as well as the natural elements, so abundant in British Columbia. Of course, Carr is inhibited by the times and the role of women in Victorian society. She began painting in the traditional manner, using watercolors, severely restricted by that technique.

However, after a year of study in a Paris still reeling from the Impressionists, Emily Carr began painting in oils, experimenting with color. Returning to her native Canada, her work was changed by the experience of France. Living as only serious artists do, Carr isolated herself, opening to the process, seeing with new eyes. When necessary, she resided at home with her sisters, but was constantly drawn back to the wilderness. Carr was endlessly fascinated by the totem poles representative of native experience and reflective of their disappearing culture.
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