A well-written, well researched historical novel can be a real joy. In Claude & Camille, Stephanie Cowell brings life and depth not only to a great artist and his wife, but also to two very human beings. Painting was not something for which Claude Monet had an affinity, it was his essence. It consumed him, drove him, and made him – at times – a bit mad. Surrounded by others of varying degrees of talent and commitment inspired him despite his and their setbacks and rejection by the established art world.
Camille Doniceaux was a member of a genteel family who risked all to be with Monet as his model, his muse, and his great love. She believed in him and his art even through his most despairing times. Their marriage was sometimes blissful, sometimes rocky, sometimes seeming on the verge of collapse.
Often leeway is given to creative persons for their “artistic temperament” or in homage to their genius, allowing them to behave thoughtlessly or selfishly. Cowell managed to strike a balance in depicting Monet as a flawed, often obsessed man and a loving one as well. He was multifaceted and is portrayed as such.
It was also interesting to get to know some of Monet’s contemporaries. Renoir, Cezanne, Pissarro, and many others populated his world and were tied together by their desire to be acknowledged by the world at large. Again, well-written historical fiction can present a wonderful chance to view the people and places of another time and the social and political events that influenced them.