Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Loving Modigliani: The Afterlife of Jeanne Hébuterne by Linda Lappin

 


"Amedeo Modigliani, embittered and unrecognized genius, dies of meningitis on a cold January day in Montparnasse in 1920. Jeanne Hébuterne, his young wife and muse, follows 48 hours later, falling backwards through a window. Now a ghost, Jeanne drifts about the studio she shared with Modigliani—for she was not only his favorite model, but also an artist whose works were later shut away from public view after her demise. Enraged, she watches as her belongings are removed from the studio and her identity as an artist seemingly effaced for posterity, carried off in a suitcase. Thus begins Loving Modigliani, retelling the story of Jeanne Hébuterne’s fate as a woman and an artist through three timelines and three precious objects stolen from the studio: a diary, a bangle, and a self-portrait of Jeanne depicted together with Modi and their daughter. A century later, Jeanne Hébuterne’s artwork will be rescued from oblivion."

I am fascinating by historical fiction about artists. They seem to be people so different from the rest of us. As we admire their free spirits, the sacrifices they make for their art and the simple, and often, poor lives they live (at least before they become famous), we can stay outside and look in. 

 The beginning of the novel takes you straight into the action and into a paranormal and gothic world.

"The ringing in my ears ceased with the dull thud of a heavy weight hurled out from a high window, crashing into the courtyard. I blacked out as a wave of pain surged through my body, traveling to the tips of my fingers and the roots of my hair. I'd barely had time to glimpse my brother André's face gawking through the open window frame, to hear the neighbours cat yowling on the balcony below us or the precipitation of feet on the stairs. Then there I was, conscious again, rather bewildered but intact, suspended in the air a few inches above that bloody heap on the cobblestones. A taut, transparent string protruding from my belly seemed to be attaching me to it."

It is an excellent opening to the story. Jeanne's travel in the other world continues over time. She is looking for Modigliani with whom she wants to be re-united. With the help of a cat she wanders restlessly around this new, unknown world, searching for her man. Going in and out of different 'doors' she enters other time zones and dimensions, where she soon becomes aware of what is happening with her inheritance. It is magically written and we are there with Jeanne as she roams around the streets of Paris that is so well known to her. It is a mixture of fantasy, gothic and magic and Lappin makes it look so true. First I thought we were going to stay in this world the whole book, and I was a little bit disappointed. But, as the story continues I found it a rather genius way of telling the story. But Lappin does not let us stay there, she has two other story lines up her sleeve. 

In the second part the story moves to 1981 and an American art student in Paris on a scholarship. She encounters a woman who new Jeanne. As strange things are happening she is drawn deeper and deeper into the life of Jeanne and Modigliani. Underlying secrets coming up to the surface, and lost paintings see the daylight again. To find out the secret, the two of them goes on a trip from Paris, to the French Riviera, to Rome, in search of answers. 

The third part takes place some ten years later in Venice when an art critic is organising the first ever exhibition of Jeanne Hébutern's works. All of a sudden a lost painting is turning up. And, we hear from Jeanne again. She, still invisible to the world, but her art is about to come out of its hiding. 

After her death at only 22 years old, her brother, André, collected and kept her art in the family. Her relationship with Modigliani and her work was shameful for them.  Only after André's death could her drawings and paintings be shown to the public. Jeanne is one of all those muses to famous painters and sculptures that were talented and could have made a career of their own. 

Linda Lappin has written a magical and fantastic story of the life of Jeanne Hébuterne. Thorough research and dedication to the object, she has given us the pleasure, for a moment, to get to know Jeanne, her life, feelings and inheritance. The story is treated with love and sensitivity. Well written both in prose, story development and historical facts, it contains fantasy, magic, suspense and gothic elements. It is a tribute to Jeanne Hébuterne and her art. One of the best historical fictions I have read.  

I received the novel via NetGalley and Linda Lappin for an impartial review. The views above are my own. 

7 comments:

  1. I have always loved Modigliani's art but until I saw a movie about his life (and the degree to which it was accurate, who knows?) I never knew about Jeanne or her art. I think I would love this one very much. It sounds fascinating and for you to call it one of the best historical fictions you have read is high praise indeed!

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    1. A really good read, not only story but the way in which it is written. Lappin takes a different approach to tell the story. It is truly great and very interesting, including some exciting research.

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    2. Lisbeth, thank you so much for this lovely review.

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  2. Great review! I organized a tour for this one at France Book Tours some time ago, and it got nice reviews. We also have a free webinar this Saturday morning with Linda Lappin and 3 other authors, all writing historical novels on French artists. There are still 24 hours to sign up: https://tinyurl.com/FBTMay08

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    1. Thank you Emma. Yes, I realised there was a tour, but had not read it at the time. Furthermore, it took longer to read due to other engagements. It is truly a great book, and I loved it. Liked the way Linda Lappin approach her subject, and how she wove an exciting web around her life.
      I would love to attend tomorrow, but unfortunately, I will be travelling the whole day and will not have access to internet. Will you write a review of the meeting so I can read up later?

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  3. thank you Lisbeth for your lovely review. I was honored to read it. Here is the link to the video of our France Book Tours online event: Four French Artists in Fiction. We talk about our research and writing process and read briefly from our novels. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZPjQjeO96o&t=1356s

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    1. Thank you Linda, it was really my pleasure. A lovely book. I will have a look at the link you sent.

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