Vreeland’s love for Renoir is made palpable in this brilliant reconstruction.

LUNCHEON OF THE BOATING PARTY

In her fourth art-related historical, Vreeland (Girl in Hyacinth Blue, 1999, etc.) provides an in-depth look at one of Renoir’s most famous paintings (its name is her novel’s title).

Maison Fournaise, on the Seine outside of Paris, is one of Renoir’s favorite haunts. One July day in 1880, the 39-year-old artist is at the restaurant/hotel/boat rental when he reads a Zola essay critical of the Impressionists. It goads him into action. He will paint a scene of boaters on the upper terrace, a wide canvas work that will surpass his Montmartre spectacle Bal au Moulin de la Galette. But time is short and money is tight. He has just two months to take advantage of the summer light. He must find money for paints, for modeling fees and for eight Sunday luncheons for his group. The female models must be women he could love. Alphonsine and Angèle are naturals; the former is the owner’s daughter, the latter a bawdy child of Montmartre; both women glow with vitality. He adds the self-styled Circe, beautiful but temperamental, foisted on him by a salon hostess; she will provoke a crisis when she quits, refusing to be done in profile. Renoir finds a miraculous replacement in Aline, a 19-year-old seamstress he will marry, years later. There are other model problems: One man is involved in a duel; there is constant anxiety over the total number (13 must be avoided). Vreeland maintains the suspense while skillfully providing context. The traumas of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune are only ten years distant; Alphonsine is a war widow, a male model is a wounded veteran. The politics of the art world are unremitting; the once-cohesive Impressionists are now split three ways. Degas mocks Renoir for seeing life through rose-colored glasses; too bad. Joyful conviviality is as valid as squalor. The finished product affirms Renoir’s credo: “Art was love made visible.”

Vreeland’s love for Renoir is made palpable in this brilliant reconstruction.

Pub Date: May 7, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-670-03854-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2007

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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