Hello, Everyone! Welcome to another issue of Carol’s Comments. I am a volunteer at the River Park Branch. Since Kate Morton hadn’t published her new novel yet and Mad Men Season 5 ended way too soon, I decided to spend my summer reading quirky books which reimagined the lives of famous artists and beloved literary characters or combined unrelated genres in an unusual way.
Ever since my high school French class went to see a Monet exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, I’ve loved Impressionism. My favorite artists are Monet, Renoir and especially Georges Seurat. In fact, my favorite painting is Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte . I’m so crazy about it that I have an exhibition poster of it hanging in my apartment; it’s the background wallpaper on my laptop and I’ve viewed the gigantic original at the Art Institute many times. So when I found Sacre Bleu, the new novel by Christopher Moore at the River Park Branch one day, I was very eager to read it.
Moore’s offbeat and inventive book speculates that Vincent Van Gogh didn’t commit suicide in July 1890 but was murdered instead. Lucien Lessard, a young Parisian baker turned aspiring artist teams up with Henri Toulouse-Lautrec to solve this supposed crime, While investigating their friend’s death, they encounter the mysterious Colorman and his bewitching female accomplice who might be linked to Van Gogh’s killing. Lessard and Van Gogh later discover that this menacing duo also magically fuel every Impressionists’ artistic creativity and eventually haunt them forever.
For added enjoyment, the author intersperses full-color reproductions of famous Impressionist masterpieces throughout each chapter. The paintings are captioned with comical excerpts from the novel. For example, under Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte , the quotation reads, “It was a very small monkey in a very large park.” Even the most casual art fan will find this enchanting, irresistible story a pleasure to read. I absolutely loved it!
After finishing Sacre Bleu, it compelled me to watch the classic film about Van Gogh, Lust for Life. Directed by Vincente Minnelli in 1956, this magnificent movie stars Kirk Douglas as Vincent Van Gogh and Oscar winner Anthony Quinn as volatile artist Paul Gauguin. Douglas’ brilliant performance illustrates how extreme mental torture, anguished frustration and obsessive creativity ultimately contributed to the artist’s insanity and tragic suicide. This film is a must-see for any devoted art lover.
If you enjoy movies about the Impressionist period, I strongly recommend watching two vastly different versions of Moulin Rouge. Directed by Baz Luhrmann in 2001 , the more surreal interpretation stars Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. This avant-garde musical integrates contemporary pop music from Madonna, Elton John, Paul McCartney and The Sound of Music into the plot to depict the lives of struggling young artists and writers in 1890’s bohemian Paris.
By contrast, director John Huston’s 1952 Moulin Rouge starring Jose Ferrer offers a more traditional biography of Toulouse-Lautrec. Ferrer’s moving portrayal shows how the artist had to overcome physical deformity while also battling alcoholism and depression to become a renowned artist.
Despite their radically different interpretations of the same subject material, Luhrmann’s and Huston’s films beautifully epitomize the captivating Belle Epoque era of late 19th century Paris.
Using key plot elements from Charlotte Bronte’s original book, the author has the title character serve as the story’s principal narrator. Set primarily in Scotland during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Gemma Hardy painstakingly recounts how through her own indomitable spirit and fierce determination, she overcomes extreme hardships and cruelties to rescue herself. Filled with many memorable and multidimensional characters, Livesey’s absorbing novel will delight anyone who loves gothic fiction as much as I do. It was such a satisfying read that I didn’t want it to end.
After reading The Flight of Gemma Hardy, I desperately wanted to watch a film version of Jane Eyre. Although there are dozens of excellent screen adaptions of the classic novel, such as the 2011 film featuring Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska, the best version of Jane Eyre is the 1944 movie starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine.
Welles’ strong, multifaceted performance truly captures the extreme guilt and emotional anguish Edward Rochester suffers from his past errors. His portrayal also evokes the passionate yet tender love he feels for his daughter’s governess.
Meanwhile, Joan Fontaine’s portrayal of Jane Eyre poignantly depicts the title heroine’s vulnerability as well as her tremendous strength and courage to overcome adversity and save both herself and the man she loves. This wonderful film is a timeless classic everyone should see.
I can’t resist coming of age novels. So when I read very positive reviews in The New York Times Book Review and Entertainment Weekly, about the new bestseller The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, I quickly snatched it up.
In her debut novel, Walker deftly blends two seemingly unrelated genres; coming of age and science fiction together to tell the story of young Julia’s burgeoning adulthood amidst global apocalypse.
As the plot unfolds through Julia’s unique viewpoint, the world’s scientists and eventually the general public discover that the Earth’s rotation has inexplicably slowed down. As a result, the days grow longer and the environment drastically changes. The “slowing” also affects gravity which causes all the birds to die and people develop strange, incurable illnesses.
Even during this worldwide catastrophe, Julia still experiences the pangs of first love, disagrees with her parents and worries about her future, This weirdly disturbing book reminded me of Ray Bradbury’s short story All Summer in a Day.
These books and movies can be found at all SJCPL locations. For more information, visit the library’s website at www.libraryforlife.org . Thanks for reading!