Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet, by Stephanie Cowell – Book Review

Cover Image for Claude and Camille, Woman In White Dress

Cover Image for Claude and Camille, Woman In White Dress

In Claude & Camille, Stephanie Cowell takes us back for a look into the early life of Impressionist artist, Claude Monet.  Cowell vividly creates a picture (really, no pun intended) of Monet’s struggles to master his art with little financial support from his family, and traces the life of his tumultuous and passionate love affair with Camille Doncieux, the upper class beauty who would model for many of Monet’s painting and who would much later become his wife.

Cowell has a writing style that is captivating, engaging and easy, and I was immediately entranced and frustrated for Monet and eventually by him in this fictional rendering of his life. Many pictures can pop to mind when we think of artists – the starving artist and the crazy genius are two that pop to mind.  I think that Monet had a little of both at work in his life, but Cowell also shows how much of what the artist and by extension, his family, endured was the result of an uncompromising commitment to his work, bettering himself as an artist and the unwavering pursuit of his artistic vision.  It’s hard to fathom a man who will only paint, and not even consider taking another job, even as his family is being thrown into the street and pursued by creditors, but Monet considered himself to be made for his art and loving Camille.  Still, it was extremely difficult for him to  have balance between the two, and the valiant efforts that he made to provide for his family had to be on his terms and within his chosen art form.

Camille Doncieux is just as passionate and maddening as her husband.  Little is known about her, yet Cowell has created a charming picture of the artist’s muse as a young woman who wants to be deeply involved with life. I am so fascinated by how historical fiction writers pick and choose the moments that they will illuminate, and there are some particularly nice moments where Camille’s character is exposed.  Camille flits from one art form to another as she tries to figure the best way in which to express her lively spirit.  She longs to be a writer, or an actress but she is just as determined to be in her relationship with Monet despite her parents disapproval and having to forgo the comfortable ife to which she had been accustomed.  Though their beginning are tenuous and slippery to the reader it is as difficult not to believe in the love that they had for each other as it is to feel disbelief at the circumstances they encountered.

While this novel is mainly about the relationship between Claude and Camille, and Monet and his artistic struggles, a lot of detail is provided about the strong relationships that Monet had with the other Impressionists.  Pissaro, Renoir, Auguste and the close relationship that he had with Bazille, the wealthy artist and comrade who could often be counted upon to provide financial help when Claude and the other artists were in a bind, are all represented here.  You really get to see how the Impressionist group was formed, and the novel was much richer for highlighting their fond relationships with one another.

Cowell’s novel is a great example of how life is usually just as fantastic or even more so than anything that can be imagined and penned in fiction.  I think that’s one of the things that has me so interested in reading about the lives of artists, writers and musicians, whether I have experienced their work or not.  I love it when historical fiction is seamless education in the history of the time and peopled with characters who come to life and whose stories I get caught up in, and Cowell’s nimble prose readily accomplished that task.  If you are even mildly nosey like I am about these type of goings on, then this book will definitely be of interest – and if you are a fan of Monet  or the Impressionists, then you are in for a real treat.

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Book Information: Claude and Camille: A Novel of Monet, by Stephanie Cowell
Publisher, Publication Date & Other Info: Crown Books – April 6, 2010 – Hardcover – 352 pages
Author Website & Other Resources & Links: Stephanie Cowell

Source: Review Copy Sent By The Publisher

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25 Comments

    1. I am pretty sick of the Tudors too. They are so fascinating but they have been probed so much at this point. I hadn't heard anything about Monet so it was an eye opening read.
      My recent post Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet, by Stephanie Cowell – Book Review

    1. Yes, exactly! I loved that there were other things were pursued in the novel. I loved the friendship.
      My recent post Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet, by Stephanie Cowell – Book Review

  1. So my grandchildren will not appreciate my encouraging my son to get a degree in Studio Art for they will not be able to eat but maybe at least their kids will be rich! This sounds like a very interesting read.

    1. Yes! Artists are so giving like that. Passing away in obscurity and poverty so that the future generations can live well. So selfless! But not so good for your son and his kids, no!
      My recent post Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet, by Stephanie Cowell – Book Review

  2. I'm a broken record today: I have this book and can't wait to read it. I need more time…..
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    1. I think that is my response to most things. The only variation is whether I actually have it or not yet!
      My recent post Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet, by Stephanie Cowell – Book Review

  3. I guess I am not cut out to be a girlfriend or a wife of an artist like this, because genius or not, I would lose my patience! I guess as far as Camille is concerned, it sorta worked out because her guy ended up being one of the most famous artists ever. But imagine how frustrating it would be to deal with someone of this temperment who wasn't all that good? I love to learn what makes people tick. I suspect I would really enjoy this one!
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    1. Sandy, I definitely wanted to step into the pages and give him a good shake. You have to really want someone to endure that kind of single mindedness. It's hard to imagine sitting by and quietly starving or losing my home because my man has an unwavering vision- but she did her best.
      My recent post Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet, by Stephanie Cowell – Book Review

    1. Kathy I really enjoyed. I spent a fair amount of time shaking my head at how he treated his family.
      My recent post Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet, by Stephanie Cowell – Book Review

    1. I hope your "wish" come true soon. I really enjoyed it.
      My recent post Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet, by Stephanie Cowell – Book Review

  4. I love art and art history and am fascinated by the lives of artists, so I think I would enjoy this novel!

    1. Then I think you would too. Artists lives can be so fascinating because they live on the edge, and the nice thing about this one is that we also get to see how all these great artists got there start and what it might have been like with all of them interacting with each other. I hope you enjoy it Valerie, if you do end up picking it up.
      My recent post Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet, by Stephanie Cowell – Book Review

  5. Fantastic review! I loved this book as well. Cowell brought these characters to life in such a way that I felt I knew them. What I love is that I didn't know much of anything about Monet other than he was an artist but I came away, after reading this book, with much more knowledge. It's nice to learn and enjoy at the same time. I'm looking forward to reading more of her work.

  6. I love impressionism and since I recently read a fictionalized book about Cezanne, this sounds very interesting.
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    1. I might have to check out the one on Cezanne. I read a book like this and wonder if all of them are like this, but then I guess they wouldn't be as interesting to read about if they weren't extreme in some way.
      My recent post Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet, by Stephanie Cowell – Book Review

  7. I only vaguely know what his work looked like before, so I am interested to pay more attention when I see it now.
    My recent post Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet, by Stephanie Cowell – Book Review

  8. I have immersed myself in reading about Impressionism for the past three weeks or so. My focus has been non-fiction, but I want to start reading some fictional stories as well. This book goes to the top of that list!