CLAIRE MARVEL by John Burnham Schwartz


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An acutely sensitive love story, the sort in which feelings and psyches are so fragile that the normal ups and downs of true love become near-fatal wounds. Here, a thirtysomething man recalls his haunting love for an elusive and complex woman.

The prose is certainly luminous, but the passions are so etiolated and inert that neither the narrator nor the woman he loves seems credible flesh and blood. Which means that their plight has all the emotional heft of a slice of cold toast. Julian Rose’s life changes forever when he meets Claire Marvel, in May 1985, while sheltering from a rain shower outside the Fogg Museum in Cambridge. Julian is a political science and government doctoral student, Claire is preparing to write her dissertation on Burne-Jones. They part when the shower ends, but Julian is smitten. He also acquires a mentor, the influential policy expert, Carl Davis, who is teaching at Harvard and needs assistance with a book he’s writing. While Julian and Davis are discussing the project in a restaurant, Claire enters and Julian introduces her to Davis, who is also struck by her beauty. Julian and Claire meet again, and, when he learns that Claire’s father, whom she dearly loves, is dying, he travels to France with her so she can visit, for her father’s sake, a place where he once was happy. Their stay in the French countryside is idyllic—and platonic—but Julian is so thrilled to be with her, and so considerate, that it doesn’t matter. Her father’s death ends their stay, but Julian, diffident like his own father, whose wife left him for another man, doesn’t make the right moves. Or the moves that would be right for Claire, who, though ever-so complex and sensitive, suddenly marries the much older Davis. Now in France trying to learn if Claire’s recent death there was a suicide, Julian recalls his brief affair with the married Claire, his work, and his marriage to a classmate’s sister.

Very precious, very trite-seeming. Love Story it’s not.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-385-50344-X
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Talese/Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2001


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