Author: Cherry Smyth
Genre: Historical Fiction
First Published: 2013
Page Count: 253
Film/ TV Adaptation: No
Rating: 2/5 Stars
This attempt at taking a fictional look at one of history’s famous muses falls short when held up against similar works by authors like Tracy Chevalier.
*Good story topic
*Exasperating characters/ relationships *Messy introduction
“The next work is always the best.” Joanna Hiffernan was the real life muse of painters James Whistler and Gustave Courbet in the Victorian era of London and Paris. Cherry Smyth takes readers on a fictional ride through Jo’s life by painting a picture of how she might have navigated the art world and the complex world of being a muse. Jo is caught in the struggle of playing the role of muse and mistress to demanding artists, trying to find time to learn the art of painting herself, and attempting not to fall too far from what society deems a woman should be.
I will say that this topic for a story is a great idea. I think if there is any grey area in a famous, historical person’s life that means it’s practically calling to an author to take a stab at what their life might have been like. I especially love books having to do with the inspiration of famous works of art. It lifts the veil of mystery about the work – even if the story is just fiction.
However, even if this type of story is right up my alley, my approval of the topic is all I can really recommend about the book. I hadn’t meant to take this long to read and review a book, especially since I am on winter break from work and imagined I would get through a ton of books. I could say that I got caught up in getting engaged and becoming a manic wedding planner or that I got caught up in the holidays, but what really happened is I could not for the life of me get into this book. For some reason 6 pages max was all I could get through, until I just sat myself down one day and powered through it. The introduction seemed messy to me because Jo’s relationship with the first painter, James Whistler, is just sort of thrown at you and you’re forced to accept it and move on. I don’t think there was enough introduction to either characters or their chemistry. Their relationship is the main focus of the book so you certainly see there is chemistry there but it’s just something you accept because that’s where the story takes you. I also couldn’t stand the main character, Whistler, or 90% of the other characters with the exception of Gustave Courbet. Jo’s decisions were very frustrating with no real change for the better, Whistler was whiny and selfish, and the other artists seemed very hoity toity about art that as the reader I didn’t feel a part of their world. Maybe I need to learn more about art? No thanks.
I was surprised I didn’t latch on to this book at all because it definitely falls in line with what I usually choose to read. If you’re looking for historical fiction books about muses or artistic inspiration I feel like there are many other books that satisfied me more than this did. As short a read as it is, I would say skip this one.
*I received a free copy of this book for this review from the author.