The romance between Pablo Picasso and the mysterious muse of his early Cubist period, Eva Gouel, inspired several of the master’s convention-defying works, including Ma Jolie, and is now the subject of this novel.
The story begins with Eva rushing to the Moulin Rouge to apply for a seamstress job through an idealized Paris of 1911, a city of “pretty little windmills, and the secret cobblestone alleyways around them, hiding the dance halls and brothels of that seamy neighborhood that shared space with vineyards, gardens and herds of sheep and goats.” At the nightclub, Eva—a girl of Polish descent described alternately as a “sprite” or “nymph” who speaks “with all of the eager assurance that a petite country girl with massive blue eyes could summon”—falls in with performers who have connections in the world of bohemian Paris, connections that put her in Picasso's way. After their first tryst, in which Picasso unknowingly takes Eva’s virginity, her beauty “intoxicates” the great artist, but there is little sign in the book of his innovative mind or artistic vision. Even the suspicion that Picasso might have had a hand in the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre is quickly glossed over, adding little color to this dull and dutiful portrayal. Readers expecting Girl With a Pearl Earring will be disappointed not only by the clichéd prose, but by the underwhelming heat between these lovers, not to mention the predictable strokes with which Girard draws Eva’s inner life—a girl for whom even a smile is a brazen act.
A visionary artist and his muse deserve an equally visionary portrait; instead, Girard offers a canvas of the thinnest watercolor.