ART IN FICTION





The Promise of Happiness by Justin Cartwright

What happens when devotion to art meets real life?  Tiffany expert Ju-Ju Judd finds out when she sends a stolen Tiffany window to Japan for her sleazy boss and is sent to prison on the strength of the shipping receipt and her tony British accent.  Family members’ response to her disgrace range from her father’s refusal to visit her in jail to her brother’s drive to become a millionaire and marry a glitzy socialite.  Her return to her parents’ home in Cornwall for her brother’s wedding offers the family a chance to reconcile and move on.  The story takes place as the traditional values of white, male-dominated, middle-class England make way for the interconnectedness and multiculturalism of the computer age.  The author’s direct style, leisurely pace, and mildly comic tone draw you in as you come to care about each character.
This domestic fiction should appeal to anglophiles, art lovers, and those interested in family relationships.  It should spark a good book discussion.

Read-alikes
Ndibe, Okey, Foreign Gods, Inc.
Shipstead, Maggie, Astonish Me.
Smith, Zadie, On Beauty.
Vreeland, Susan, Clara and Mr. Tiffany.

See-alike ( dvd)
Other People’s Money

Jackie Malone, Bellmore Public Library



The God of Spring by Arabella Edge            


This novel is a fictionalized telling of the creation of the French artist Theodore Gericault’s famous painting, The Raft of the Medusa. Gericault was young, passionate, rich, and very creative. The book tells the story of the creative process that went into the painting, and of how the painting virtually destroyed Gericault’s life.  In spite of his fame and the success the work brought him, he died less than five years after its completion.

The painting depicts Gericault’s imagining of the aftermath of the wreck of the Medusa, a French frigate that was shipwrecked off the coast of Africa. However, Gericault did more than imagine the scene. He invited two survivors of the wreck to live in his studio, used actual corpses as models, and went to hospitals to sketch and interview the terminally ill.

The artist portrays Gericault going from one crisis to another in his life. First he agonizes over the subject of his next painting. Next, he rages over his rivalry with a fellow artist, Horace Vernet, a sort of Salieri to Gericault’s Mozart. And then finally he engages in a passionate affair with his uncle’s young, beautiful wife, the very same uncle who is also his artistic benefactor.
Edge has created a wonderful fast-paced and tempestuous read here, and you are drawn headfirst into the creation of Gericault’s masterpiece and the thought process of a first rate artistic mind. Gericault is portrayed here as a brilliant, romantic and passionate character and you wish you could have been there to witness the story first hand.

Read-alikes might include:
Tracy Chevalier, The Lady and the Unicorn and Girl with a Pearl Earring.
Lynn Cullen, The Creation of Eve.
Sarah Dunant, The Birth of Venus
Karen Essex, Leonardo’s Swans.
Susan Vreeland, The Passion of Artemisia.

Bruce Silverstein, Patchogue-Medford Library



I Always Loved You: a story of Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas by Robin Oliveira

Mary Cassatt was a talented and determined painter, though discouraged for years by the lack of public recognition for her work. She came from a well-to-do Philadelphia family who were supportive of her dreams, and helped her financially while she lived abroad to study and paint. But it was hard to defend her decision to remain when, once again, her submission to the coveted Paris Salon exhibition is rejected. In Oliviera’s brilliantly imagined work of fictionalized biography, everything changes when Cassatt meets Edgar Degas in 1870’s Paris.  Degas knows everyone: artists, including Edouard Manet and Berthe Morisot, and writers, Emile Zola perhaps the most famous.  Cassatt becomes part of the Impressionist inner circle.  Under Degas’ mentorship her talent blossoms and a deep relationship develops between them.  Theirs is a decidedly unconventional love story, largely because Cassatt and Degas both have powerful, but excruciatingly sensitive, personalities.  Maybe this is because they are artists?

 Oliviera is a beautiful writer. Her language is lyrical and descriptive: the reader truly becomes immersed in the lives of all the characters.  The artistic process of inspiration and dedication to the “muse” is an important component of the love story, imaginatively depicted by the author.  Her research was extensive, making Belle Époque Paris, a time of great changes in science, architecture and technology, come alive.  “Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper” (New York: Permanent Press and Seven Stories Press, 2001), by Harriet Scott Chessman is a certain read-alike, but I think the works of Irving Stone, “Agony and the Ecstasy” and “Lust for Life” , would also have great appeal to readers who love art in fiction.

Suzanne McGuire,  Commack Public Library


Painter of Battles by Arturo Perez-Reverte
Andres Faulques is a world-renowned photo-journalist whose horrific images of war have made him internationally famous and extremely wealthy. We meet Andres “the Painter of Battles”  in his 300 year old tower on the Spanish Coast in the first chapter . Andres has forsaken his camera for a paintbrush as he attempts to create the definitive image “a fleeting and eternal moment that would explain all things.” 

A Croatian soldier, Ivo Markovic visits “the painter of battles” and demands that Andres remember him.  Ivo shows him a photo Faulques took before the battle of Vukovar in 1991 in the former Yugoslavia, a photo that was featured on the cover of magazines and made Markovic famous and also ruined his life.  Markovic then tells Faulques that he plans to kill him but first they must talk.  He wants Faulques to reexamine his journalistic work, exposing the horrors of war, and reflect on the morality of such a profession.  We find out in the course of these conversations that Markovic’s wife was raped and murdered because of Ivo’s celebrity and his 5 year old son was also bayoneted and killed.

The question which is posed is a fascinating one; does the witness to the horrors of war bear any of the blame for these actions by standing by and just capturing the tragedies? Unfortunately the rambling pseudo-intellectual discussions about which of the perpetrators committed the more heinous and callous crimes leaves the reader oddly unmoved.  The novel was translated from Spanish and one wonders if some of the blame falls to the translator.  It makes for a good book discussion if the group can forgive the heavy handed treatment given the relationship between Ivo and Andres.

Author Arturo Perez-Reverte was a war correspondent for twenty years (1973-1994) and is well known outside Spain for his Alatriste series of novels.  He is now a member of the Royal Spanish Academy since 2003.

Read- alikes:
Argueta, Manilo          One Day of Life
Koch, C.J.                     Year of Living Dangerously
Soli, Tatjiana               Lotus Eaters
Tolstoy, Leo                 War and Peace

Peggy McCarthy, The Smithtown Library, Retired



The Way of the Dog by Sam Savage

Harold Nivenson, a decrepit old man who was once a “minor” artist, art critic and art patron, has pulled away from the world since his dog died.  Harold sleeps most of his life away when he is not watching his neighbors from his window.   He is a bitter soul, who reviews his life regretfully and comments cynically about his gentrified neighborhood that once was run down but artistic and now is middle class and populated by “breeders.”  Harold’s home was once a small artist commune and his friend and later rival, the successful artist Peter Meininger,  left behind the only valuable painting Harold now owns in his collection.  Peter also took Harold’s wife away.  Harold, feeble and sickly, is taken care of by Moll, a caretaker who we learn later is his wife who has returned, and his son, Alfie, who Harold hardly knew. 

The story is told in a stream of consciousness and the reader comes to understand these are the notes and index cards that Harold has been writing his whole life.  Harold contemplates his life and believes he “failed at art and life” and thinks about all the famous artists and writers who committed suicide as he himself considers ending his lonely existence.  The reader understands that this cynical and mean spirited man really longs to be connected to others and the book ends on a hopeful note as Harold accepts living in the present and accepts the love offered to him.  The stream of consciousness at first is a bit challenging as Harold jumps from the present to the past but once it is understood that Harold is piecing his life from the index cards he has been writing his whole life the reader follows the story more easily.  It captures the harsh realities of getting old and being unable to care for oneself.  The story also shows the pain an artist can feel when he realizes that his talent was wasted and life pushes on.

Author notes:  Sam Savage was born in 1940 in South Carolina.  He graduated from Yale in 1968, received his PhD in philosophy also from Yale and taught there briefly.   After leaving Yale he spent several years in France.  He was 65 years old when he published his first novel,  Fermin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife, which became a best seller in Europe.  Before writing, Savage also worked as a bicycle mechanic, carpenter, crab fisherman and letter press printer.

Read-alikes:
The Cry of the Sloth by Sam Savage
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean Dominique Bauby,
Tinkers by Paul Harding


Myrna Velez, Brentwood Public Library


The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro

Enter the world of struggling artist Claire Roth who copies famous paintings for a website called Reproductions.com.  Aidan Markel, the handsome owner of a prestigious gallery, promises to exhibit her paintings if she will “reproduce” a Degas he has acquired.   He is soon arrested for trying to fob off her reproduction as the real thing.  And Claire finds herself in danger of going to jail unless she can find the original Degas she was commissioned to forge!

The author explores the yearning to own an original work of art with the understanding that the art world is as fragile and precarious as the art itself. Shapiro includes letters from Isabella Stewart Gardner whose magnificent art collection won her lasting fame and whose collection endures in the museum she opened in 1903 in Boston which bears her name.   An unsolved theft at the museum in 1990 was actually Shapiro’s motivation for this, her debut novel.
This literary mystery is recommended for men and women as well as older teens.  An interest in art would be a big plus!

Read-alikes for suspense and art:
Sarah Rayne
Donna Tartt
Upton Sinclair
Dara Horn
Grace O’Connor, West Islip Public Library



The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The story begins with an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum that kills narrator Theo Decker's beloved mother and results in his possession of a Dutch masterwork called The Goldfinch and an engraved ring.  Shootouts, gangsters, pillowcases, storage lockers, and the black market for art all play parts in the ensuing life of the painting in Theo's care. 

- Kathy Carter (formerly of Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library)



Dancing for Degas by Kathryn Wagner

            Alexandrie joins the ballet as a way to help support her impoverished family.  Raised in the countryside of France in the late 1800’s, she is expected to contribute and eventually support her family. She lives, eats and breathes her dance training.  Alexandrie is eventually selected to join the prestigious Paris Opera Ballet after many years of hard mental and physical training.   This allows her to support her family and move up the ranks of society from impoverished farm girl to Ballerina.  It also exposes her to the sexual politics of poverty, and issues such as the oppression of women and the expectations of society around her.  The basic premise is that some of the ballerinas become a lorette to the upper class men of  Paris who come to watch them perform.   They are kept as a mistress and afforded a life that they would never know otherwise.  Alexandrie resists this lifestyle, and holds out hope for artist Edgar Degas, with whom she falls in love.   Degas comes to watch the Ballerinas daily and draws and paints the women dancing.   He earns the admiration, respect and feelings of Alexandrie as she becomes  one of his main models and they develop a friendship.

            The characters are likable and well developed, with the author capturing the nuances of the reclusive, private and sometimes controversial artist Degas . I felt as though there was a lack of attention to some details, so this may be a turn off for history or dance buffs.  The backdrop of Paris in the late 1800’s is a rich and exciting background to the plot.  The writing is simple and the book is structurally divided into four acts with a series of numbered scenes (chapters) within the act. An interesting solid read about a fascinating time in the history of Paris, dance and art.

Author Notes
Kathryn Wagner currently resides in Washington, D.C. Dancing for Degas is her first novel. Kathryn holds a B.A. in journalism with a minor in art and has worked as a staff writer and columnist for several newspapers in North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Virginia. She is currently working on her second novel.

Read-alikes:
The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier
The Painted Girls  by Cathy Marie Buchanan
The Portrait  by Iain Pears

Donna Brown, Northport-East Northport Public Library



The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

The story begins in 1975 when Jules attends Spirit in the Woods art camp and is invited to join a group of teens that call themselves the Interestings. What follows are the lives of the teens as they move from gawky 15-year-olds to adults – how friendships are tested, who follows their dreams, whose dreams fall flat and how the camp played such an important part in each of their lives.

The book goes back and forth from one character to another focusing mostly on Jules, Ash, Ethan and Jonah, showing them throughout the years then going back in time so the reader can follow how he or she arrived at the current point in the story. Jules has quite a sarcastic wit and there are many funny parts within the narrative especially between her and Ethan, but she’s also jealous, petty and often frustrating.

The story moves well enough, but it could have been 100-150 pages shorter. The narrative often drifts into too much detail making the reader want to skim through the sections that aren’t necessarily important to the story as a whole. The writing is solid, the almost 40 years of history as they relate to the characters is interesting at times and obscure at others and the differences between the friends grows wider as they grow older. There doesn’t seem to be much of a plot other than the trials and tribulations of the characters and how people and life change over time. Definitely a work of literary fiction and not those looking for a quick read. The Interstings can be read by men or women as the characters are both, the lives are diverse and the story isn’t trying to be relatable to one group over another.

Read-alikes:
Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler
Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos
While I Was Gone by Sue Miller

Azuree Agnello, West Babylon Public Library