A mesmerizing tale of art and passion in Belle Époque France As a woman, aspiring sculptor Camille Claudel has plenty of critics, especially her ultra-traditional mother. But when Auguste Rodin makes Camille his apprentice—and his muse—their passion inspires groundbreaking works. Yet, Camille’s success is overshadowed by her lover’s rising star, and her obsessions cross the line into madness. Rodin’s Lover brings to life the volatile love affair between one of the era’s greatest artists and a woman entwined in a tragic dilemma she cannot escape.

Plume 320 pages

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Gaele Hi

11 months ago

Fast becoming one of my favorite writers that combines historical figures, fiction and impeccable researching, Heather Webb has crafted another gripping and emotional love story, brought to life from the past.

Auguste Rodin is a name familiar to everyone, one doesn’t need to be familiar with art or art history to be familiar with his name. And, typical of much of history, it is the men who have been documented and fêted, while in many cases, women are simple footnotes. Considered to be the ‘father’ of modern sculpture, his use of realism and highly emotive imagery, departed from themes focusing on myth and allegory that were prevalent during his creative years.

Camille Claudel is less familiar to many, although her younger brother Paul is a noted poet. Denied entry into the premiere art school of the day because of her sex, Claudel studied with Colarossi and then opened her own workshop that was populated by women. Introduced to Rodin by her mentor, Alfred Boucher, she went to work in Rodin’s studio: and our story of love, obsession, art and the particular genius of the truly talented that so often runs to madness begins.

Do you really need to know any of that information? No: Webb so completely immerses readers into the life of Claudel, presenting background and details that bring the story to life. Claudel is a complex woman (aren’t we all though really) living and struggling with her two great passions: her art and her love. While never completely reconciling herself to her position as the lover, but not wife, live-in or even exclusive recipient of his affections, much of Claudel’s ardor is palpable, but somehow ephemeral and elusive: her position isn’t secure and the ramifications to her reputation even in the progressive Parisian arts society I feel is an important contributor to her relative unknown status in modern day.

What Webb has done is present a story rich in the time, laden with facts and beautifully enriched with Paris and the people who were integral in the era: artists, models, patrons and the salons all served to enrich the sense of era and place with strong imagery and description. Using Camille’s point of view to tell her story, with the third person insets of Rodin’s voice also served to present that remove to which he was willing to, and perhaps in his own selfish way, returned her affections but on his terms. While these changes did interrupt Camille’s flow, it also served to act as a ‘reality check’ to the difficulties she was facing: emotionally and artistically, in this relationship with a man consumed by his own passions and art. It is perhaps fitting that her mental health and stability are fluid and ever changing throughout the story, to her tragic end.

Fans of historic fiction, art or even Paris will enjoy this story: the mix of history and fiction with characters that will entice you to look further are all solid elements in this book. Webb’s presentation of Claudel, with her ultimately tragic end has voice and life here: although a complex and often convoluted one.

I received an eArc copy from the publisher via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.