Light: With Monet at Giverny: A Novel - Eva Figes

This shimmering short novel gives an extraordinary portrait of a day in the life of an artist at work and at home. In prose as luminous as the colors Monet used to portray his beloved garden, Eva Figes guides us through Giverny. We get to know Monet’s family—including his daughter Germaine who frets that she will not be able to marry the man she loves and his wife who greaves for a departed child—as well as the family’s friend, the abbé, who eats and drinks with them, observing the essential faith of the painter’s art. All of the characters experience, in very different ways, the richness of the light that Monet works unceasingly to pin down in his last great paintings.

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This is a quick little novella, just 122 pages, that looks at what a day in the life of artist Claude Monet might have been like. The reader not only sees things from his perspective but also that of his wife, house servants, and extended family members living in the Monet home. The opening scenes bring us into the home just before dawn and take us through sunset, all the while making note of where the light hits throughout the day and what thoughts it inspires in those observing the light. There are observations on inspiration block (when it comes to Monet and his paintings, that is), familial dramas, depression, coping with the loss of a child, taboo relationships, even how the servants feel about working for Monet. It's a look at how much can be revealed and even possibly answered over the course of just one day.

 

I admit, going into this little story I did not know much about the life of Monet but the writing here has definitely made me curious to read up on him more. The writing is definitely very rich in description... as it should be, I imagine, if your subject matter is about art! Fans of his paintings will love all the detailed, tactile descriptions of the man in nature and at work. Be aware though, this is a slow-burn character study, so if you like your books more action driven this might not be your thing. Case in point, it takes about 36 pages for Monet to see a water lily open before he starts painting it! That said, even for a character study it was often a little on the dull & slow side for me. 

 

What I did really enjoy were all the little details you wouldn't normally think about when it comes to a historical figure, details that make them easier to imagine as being at one time real, even so many years after their passing. For instance, there is one scene where Monet is adamantly expressing to his groundskeepers that the pond on his property be kept in pristine, perfectly clear condition, free of any surface debris, so that it is always ready to be worked into a painting. The way Figes writes Monet's words made it easy to imagine this discussion actually taking place, facial expressions and all. 

 

What ended up knocking the story down some for me was the sensation of starting out curious about where the day with the Monet family would go, but coming to the the final pages feeling a little cheated. When I closed the book and thought back on what I had read, it almost felt as if you were to take the most banal conversations overheard in a diner and try to make a novel out of all these barely related bits and pieces. You walk away feeling like "why did I just spend so much time trying to invest in that?!"

 

And what was with SO many family members living in that house? No joke, it was like watching a clown car, trying to keep track of all the family throwing out dialogue!

 

I'd say this one is good for a once over if you want to study books for writing technique because the imagery is beautiful. It's just the actual storyline itself that I found to be a little weak and forgettable.