Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Fountain of St. James Court; or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman by Sena Jeter Naslund

Morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Sena Jeter Naslund's latest, The Fountain of St. James Court; or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman.

I had a very hard time with this book and for that reason I'm going to use the synopsis from the publisher's page:

"Is it a crime to live? To create happiness for yourself through your own work?"

How do writers and painters get their ideas? And what are the hard realities of such seemingly glamorous and romantic lives? In her groundbreaking new novel, New York Times bestselling author Sena Jeter Naslund explores the transformative power of art, history, and love in the lives of creative women.

It's midnight on St. James Court, at the heart of which is a beautiful fountain sculpture of Venus rising from the sea. Kathryn Callaghan has just finished the first draft of her novel about renowned painter Élisabeth Vigée-Le Brun, a survivor of the French Revolution who was hated for her sympathetic portraits of Marie Antoinette. Although the manuscript is complete, its author remains haunted by Élisabeth's experiences, which are revealed in Sena Jeter Naslund's ingenious novel-within-a-novel interleaved with the chronicle of a day in the life of Kathryn Callaghan. Despite being separated by time, place, and culture, Kathryn and Élisabeth possess similar gifts and burdens: uncompromising aesthetic codes, fierce pride in their artistic expression, and unwavering love and sacrifice for their children. And before the next midnight rolls around, Kathryn will have confronted personal danger as frightening as the butchery that Élisabeth faced during the Reign of Terror. Each woman will be called upon and tested; each will, like Venus, rise triumphantly above the expectations of her world.

Abundance was my very first experience with Sena Jeter Naslund's work. It's the story of Marie Antoinette and I really quite adored it. In this latest, the author again returns to the time of the French Revolution with Élizabeth Vigée- Le Brun, an artist who once graced Marie Antoinette's court. But the artist is only part of the story here, her tale appearing as a story within the story in the form of a novel written by Kathryn Callaghan.

I'm not sure why there was such a disconnect between myself and this book but we just did not mesh. It was Élizabeth Vigée- Le Brun that drew me to this novel thanks to Abundance. It's perhaps exactly this that set me up for trouble with the book. Or maybe it was just the wrong time, a good book is a good book regardless of expectations and more often than not I'm able to set those aside eventually and become totally enraptured in a story that ends up being something other than what I'd thought it would be. Either way I struggled and struggled with the book in a way that thankfully I rarely have to.

I do know that part of my problem came about thanks to the format of the book, particularly in the very beginning. The story alternates between Kathryn and her book (not the issue) but in the beginning especially, each alternating chapter is so short that it didn't feel like I was getting a chance to know either character in any real way. I found myself becoming frustrated every time the story would switch back and forth. Dual narratives are never a problem for me, in fact I do enjoy them quite a bit, but I want to really connect with a character from the start and I found that almost impossible with this narrative.

All in all this was clearly not the book for me. I've seen some wonderful reviews on the tour so far, though, and definitely encourage readers to check out those before making an opinion as to whether or not the book might be for them.

Rating: 3/5

To see more stops on the tour, visit the official TLC tour page here. For more on the author, you can like her on Facebook.

1 comment:

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book for the tour.