Friday, August 29, 2014

Review: Madame Picasso

Publication Date: August 26, 2014
Publisher:  Harlequin MIRA
Formats: eBook, Paperback

Genre: Historical Fiction
Acquired:  Through Historical Fiction Virtual Tours 

When Eva Gouel moves to Paris from the countryside, she is full of ambition and dreams of stardom. Though young and inexperienced, she manages to find work as a costumer at the famous Moulin Rouge, and it is here that she first catches the attention of Pablo Picasso, a rising star in the art world.  A brilliant but eccentric artist, Picasso sets his sights on Eva, and Eva can’t help but be drawn into his web. But what starts as a torrid affair soon evolves into what will become the first great love of Picasso’s life. 

Praise for Madame Picasso

“Early twentieth century Paris and Picasso’s lost love come to enchanted, vivid life in Madame Picasso. With a deft eye for detail and deep understanding for her protagonists, Anne Girard captures the earnest young woman who enthralled the famous artist and became his unsung muse.” – C.W. Gortner, bestselling author of THE QUEEN’S VOW

About the Author:

Anne Girard was born with writing in her blood. The daughter of a hard-driving Chicago newsman, she has always had the same passion for storytelling that fueled his lifelong career. She hand-wrote her first novel (admittedly, not a very good one) at the age of fourteen, and never stopped imagining characters and their stories. Writing only ever took a backseat to her love of reading.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in English literature from UCLA and a Master’s degree in psychology from Pepperdine University, a chance meeting with the acclaimed author, Irving Stone, sharply focused her ambition onto telling great stories from history with detailed research. “Live where your characters lived, see the things they saw,” he said, “only then can you truly bring them to life for your readers.” Anne took that advice to heart. After Stone’s encouragement twenty years ago, she sold her first novel. When she is not traveling the world researching her stories, Anne and her family make their home in Southern California. When she is not traveling or writing, she is reading fiction.

Anne also writes historical fiction under the name Diane Haeger. For more information, visit You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

My thoughts:  You didn't think that I wasn't going to actually review the book did you? I want to thank Amy Bruno from Passages to the Past and HFVBT for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for this fantastic book.  When I received the email from Amy, my first thought was "I'm not really fond of Picasso as an artist or as a person," but I've read Anne's previous books written under the name Diane Haeger and enjoyed them. She was even kind enough to be interviewed during the early days of the blog, so I thought 'why not?' I adore Paris and this book takes place in an intriguing time in the city's history, just before the start of WWI.  Mata Hari and Isadora Duncan were taking the city by storm with their innovative dance performances.  And the book involved scenes at the Moulin Rouge with a young Maurice Chevalier.  Sold!

I was charmed from the very first paragraph when Eva shows up late for her appointment at the Moulin Rouge but manages to talk her way into a job working as a wardrobe assistant.  I wasn't sure that I was going to like Eva, at first she seems a bit timid and uncertain of herself but Paris begins to work its magic on her, and she slowly grows as a person and as a character. She changes her name from Eva Gouel to Marcelle Humbert to sound more Parisian, to leave behind the provincial girl from the provinces. Almost immediately she meets a charismatic artist who turns out to be Picasso.  

I confess that some of my feelings about Picasso stem from the Merchant-Ivory movie starring Anthony Hopkins hamming it up as a middle-aged Picasso.  That Picasso was at the height of his fame and was a total asshole, especially to women. Girard gives us a glimpse at the young Picasso, just about to turn thirty, who after years of hardship is finally making a name for himself as an artist.  This Picasso has just begun experimenting with Cubism. I liked this Picasso, he's still in touch with his roots in Spain, but he's known tragedy.  His younger sister and his best friend have died, and he feels their loss keenly. 

What I liked about this story was that both characters were flawed.  Eva is feisty but she's also a bit of a martyr.  At first I thought that she was going to be a totally passive character who just allows things to happen to her, who gets swept away in a grand romance with Picasso. I liked the fact that she tried to respect Picasso's relationship with Fernande Olivier, even though the passion between her and Picasso was so strong. I also liked the fact that Picasso, although he loved Eva, still had the decency to not want to hurt Fernande even though the relationship was dying. He didn't just chuck her out, he had moments where he reflected on how much they had gone through together. 

In Girard's hands, the world of the Moulin Rouge and the South of France come alive in vivid colors like one of Picasso's paintings.  Seriously, after reading this book, all I wanted to do was hop on a place to Paris to walk in Picasso and Eva's footsteps. Reading this book was like taking a master class in historical fiction.  She doesn't overload the reader with details about the clothes or furniture, she focuses more on the emotions of the characters and how they react to having a new dress or moving into new flat. The experience of getting into a motorcar for the first time. Of course, all the usual suspects are here, Gertrude Stein and her life partner Alice B. Toklas (who actually comes alive in this book and is not just wallpaper or an appendage to Stein), Mistinguett, Matisse and Guillaume Appolinaire.  

Books about real people can be tricky. Particularly when the real-life person has so many famous friends. It can sometimes feel like dropping names into a story. For the most part Girard avoids that trap. There was a moment at Gertrude Stein's apartment where it felt a little name-droppy but that couldn't be helped. The best parts of the book are of course the intimate scenes between Picasso and Eva.  I don't know if Eva really was the love of Picasso's life, but Girard certainly made me feel as if she was.  Eva seemed to understand him in a way that Fernande Olivier didn't. Particularly in the last 1/3 of the book. Girard even made me feel for Olivier who could have come across as just the scorned girlfriend or a bitch, but Girard reveals the layers beneath the surface. Girard points out that life wasn't plain sailing for Eva and Picasso, that their relationship had consequences, friendships were lost. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I was sad when I finished it. I could have cheerfully spend more time with Eva and Picasso.

1 comment:

Tea Norman said...

I stopped by because of my interest in Madame Picasso, and I like to visit blogs during blog tours. I enjoyed reading your thoughts about this novel. I think your blog is really fancy. I like it.