Having previously read Emile Zola’s The Masterpiece (L’Oeuvre), which gave me some idea of the Parisian art scene and the lives of aspiring impressionist painters of mid 19th century France, I found this dramatized life story of Claude Monet familiar and believable. I don’t know much about the art of painting, but Monet’s eight water lilies murals exhibited at the Musee de L’Orangerie had strummed a heartstring in me, as in many others. Cowell saw an interesting link between Monet’s love for Camille Doncieux and his obsession with the painting of water lilies in his late life, and spun an evocative yarn out of it.
In general it is a story of romantic love between a struggling artist (Claude Monet) and a beautiful girl from a well-heeled background (Camille Doncieux), with all the twists and turns related to the depressing fight against poverty and social prejudice, and to breach of loyalty between lovers and friends. Sprinkled throughout the novel are elegant descriptions of countryside landscapes and seascapes in various parts of France, which become Monet’s and his painter friends’ painting targets. Towards the last fifth of the novel, the drama heightens as tension builds up in the love triangle between Monet, his wife Camille and his lover Alice (wife of his patron).
Overall, it is a well-constructed romance with trimmings of the art scene in the background, if some elements of the story lean on the make-believe side. Personally I feel that the deliberate and frequent insertion of short French phrases in the dialogues doesn’t add any more French flavor to them – it is a touch unnatural and awkward.
I’m giving this novel 3.4 stars, rounded down.