Mad Enchantment – Ross King

For an art junkie, a trip to Paris is incomplete without a visit to the Musee d’Orsay. This is after all the mecca of Impressionism, that art movement in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, which was reviled by critics in its early years but revered much later. Musee d’Orsay displays a host of paintings by Impressionist painters such as Renoir, Degas, Manet, Cezanne, Pissarro and the father of them all – Claude Monet.

But this is not the only museum that showcases Monet’s art. The Orangerie Museum is dedicated to Monet and more so for displaying his famous water lily paintings. It is these paintings which form the subject matter of Ross King’s engrossing book ‘Mad Enchantment’.

This then is a biography of not only Monet but also the history behind the creation of these water lily paintings or Monet’s ‘upside down paintings’ as they were so called. King goes on to show a bit of Monet’s early life as a painter, the essential ‘Frenchness’ of his art as he painted canvases of the Normandy coast,  wheat stacks, and the Rouen  cathedral to name a few. King touches upon the significance of light in these paintings. Essentially Monet worked a lot outdoors and that too on many canvases at a time so that he could capture that fleeting play of light in his work.

Ross then goes on to show how besides painting, Monet also developed a strong interest in gardening. This is significant as it prompted Monet to cultivate a water lily pond in his garden at Giverny with the famous Japanese bridge across it.

This water lily pond then became a subject of his art for much of his later years. The idea for a ‘Grand Decoration’ was conceived; a slew of water lily paintings on much larger canvases. These would be displayed in a circular room, which Monet called his ‘flowery aquarium’ thereby giving a sense of peace to the observer.

But the path to realize this ambition was not always easy. King explains how Monet had to suffer the difficulties of the First World War, periods of self-doubt, loss of some of his family members and contemporaries, and his own diminishing eyesight…to create these masterworks.

King’s prose flows smoothly and makes this biography fascinating and eminently readable. A must read then for anyone remotely interested in art and art history.

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The Lesser Bohemians – Eimear McBride

First read of the new year and a cracking start.

An 18 year old Irish woman studying in drama school falls madly in love with an established actor, a little more than 20 years her senior. But more than the age gap, it is the older man’s dark past that could potentially derail their relationship.

With an unflinching eye, author Eimear McBride examines this relationship in microscopic detail. The prose is stream of consciousness style and yet accessible, rhythmic, sensual and remarkably intimate.

This is McBride’s second book and was shortlisted for the relatively new Goldsmiths Prize, set up to reward innovation in literature.

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The best of 2016

It’s been a great year of travel, and armchair travel!

Here are my top ten reads for 2016. Unique voices, innovative and sharp writing, and strong themes make them stand out.

Relationships dominate the list but they are not always romantic. ‘The Blue Room’ and ‘Hot Milk’ explore the complex relationship between mother and daughter as the daughters struggle to gain individuality.

‘Her Father’s Daughter’ beautifully captures the growing love a young French girl feels for her father who has just returned from war and who she is seeing for the first time.

Can two sisters, in a remote northernmost part of Norway, live harmoniously together? Or is each one deliberately trying to wreck the life of the other? ‘The Looking Glass Sisters’, a much darker work, had me riveted.

In ‘Attachment’, a French student reminisces on her romantic relationship with her professor and how it was received by her family. ‘Paulina & Fran’ throws light on bohemian life in art colleges and how the reality, once you graduate, can be different.

However, human contact is not something one craves all the time. ‘Pond’ is a captivating tale of the pleasures of a life in solitude told by an unnamed young woman in a series of vignettes.

‘Manual for Cleaning Women’ has been a real find. Berlin led an eventful life. Brought up in the remote mining camps of the Midwest, she was a lonely child in wartime Texas, a rich and privileged young woman in Santiago, and a bohemian hipster in 50s New York. She held jobs as an ER nurse and cleaning woman while raising four boys all one her own. All of her experiences are captured in this rich collection of short stories in prose that is simply luminous.

And no one writes about California and LA as brilliantly as Joan Didion does in Play It As It Lays. The novel brutally dissects 1960s American culture.

The Faulkner is of course a classic and very rightly so.

That rounds up a truly wonderful reading year!

And oh, I just noticed that Faulkner is the only male author on the list:)

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