Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Last Nude by Ellis Avery

Title: The Last Nude
Author: Ellis Avery

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Paris / 1930s / Artist & Muse / Same-Sex Relationships / Historical Figure Fictionalized)
Publisher/Publication Date: Riverhead Hardcover (1/5/2012)
Source: The publisher

Rating: Loved!
Did I finish?: Yes!
One-sentence summary: American expat Rafaela Fano becomes a model for avant-garde artist Tamara de Lempicka, and eventually her lover, in 1920s Paris.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I adore the cover -- it's one of de Lempicka's portraits of Rafaela and the feel of it so captures the mood of the story. So perfect. I love the font used with my whole body.

I'm reminded of...: Emma Donoghue, Anaïs Nin, Sarah Waters

First line: I only met Tamara de Lempicka because I needed a hundred francs.

Do... I agree with New York Press that Ellis Avery is The Best Writer You've Never Heard of But Should Go Read Right Now?: YES. Where has she been all my life?! I'm a fan for life now!

Did... I miss my subway stop twice while reading this?: YES. All hail the return of the so-awesome-I-lose-track-of-reality read!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy, buy!

Why did I get this book?: I adore de Lempicka and I'm fascinated by that era/circle in Paris. This was a no-brianer for me!

Review: I loved this book. And in that way when I'm totally smitten, I'm not even sure I can compose complete sentences explaining why I loved this book so. In short: the writing is gorgeous, the romance sensual and sexy, and the characters sketched quickly but warmly despite their flaws.

First, the setting. I'm mad for Paris in the late '20s and I love the circle of artists the novel focuses on; Avery creates the ambiance without bogging down the story in details. There's a mix of hard scrabble poverty and excessive wealth, titles and nobodies, post-war and pre-war. The novel references de Lempicka's art from 1927 on, which can be seen online -- and should, because they're gorgeous. And sexy.

Second, the characters. I really fell in love with everyone, even the unappealing ones, the shameful ones, the shameless ones, the selfish jerks and the too-saintly-to-be true mouses. They felt real to me, even though Avery doesn't spend tons of time describing them, either. (I'm afraid I'm making this sound like the narrative is thin, but it isn't!) Through snappy dialogue and Rafaela's viewpoint (and for a brief time, Tamara's) we see meet these rapacious souls (food, money, sex, artistic inspiration, safety -- the need various, but there's unceasing hunger!). Shamefully (?), I liked Tamara despite her cruel, predatory, and selfish behavior, because Avery made her so real for me. The manipulative, passionate woman we see through Rafaela's eyes tells her side of the story, briefly, late in life.

And finally, the writing. This novel races even though it isn't a fast-paced or intricately plotted novel. The hot burn of desire propels the story; like Rafaela impatient for the day to end so she can go to Tamara, I was impatient for the next liaison, the next drink, the next painting. I ate up every word because each sentence fulfilled and left me yearning. The end of the book killed me dead in the best way, oh-so-bittersweet and sad and yummy.

For those uncomfortable with sex, this novel might be too spicy. Avery writes some of the sexiest lesbian sex I've read in a novel in a long time, and while it isn't graphic, it also isn't discreet. The sex is part of the story, like the paintings, like Paris, and feels right, not gratuitous.

I'm making myself want to read this all over again. Right now.

*** *** ***


I'm excited to offer a copy of The Last Nude to one lucky reader, thanks to the publisher. To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, closes 2/3.


  1. I've read things here or there about this but haven't paid too much attention because I don't read historical fiction that much anymore. This sounds so good though. I love your quote "the hot burn of desire propels the story", LOL.

  2. @Jenny: Let this be the historical novel that lures you back to the genre; or the one that is the exception. It's so good!

  3. I have this one, and have been eying it curiously for some time now. I think I need to make time for it because it sounds excellent and like something that I would really enjoy. I am not bothered by the sex either, so that shouldn't be a stumbling block for me. Great review today!

  4. @Heather: Do read it sooner than later -- I'd love to gush about it with you (presuming, of course, you enjoy it!). It's fun escapism for the winter!

  5. Oh boy! High praise from you means this one needs to be moved up the queue. It's on the shelf just waiting for me to pick it up. Sounds like it needs to be a priority.

  6. @Teresa: Not to be dramatic, but you MUST ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO read this one. It is that good. :)

  7. I love your enthusiasm for this one, and you really had me at "I'm reminded of..."

    Filling out the form now!

  8. This looks fantastic! I adore Tamara de Lempicka and have been fascinated by her paintings for years. I've read bits and pieces about her life but not much, so this book sounds awesome. Thank you for hosting a giveaway of it as well! ~Mary Beth

  9. I'm so glad to see you adored this one SO much! It just came in for me at the library and I cannot wait to read it. Art history fiction was good enough but to hear you rave is wonderful!

  10. @Andi: You won't regret it. This book = awesome.

    @Mary Beth: This book made me love Tamara more, even if she's not wholly sympathetic. The last page of this book -- ohemgee. Amazing.

    @Carrie: I can't wait to see what you think of it!

  11. This looks great! Think I'll pick this up even if I don't get the giveaway. :)

  12. Feeling sad because I can't enter the giveaway :( But, wow, if it's that good, I will have to buy. Lempicka was a great female painter - we don't have enough of those.

  13. Paris in the 20's? I am SO there!! Have I told you lately how much I like your review format? I know I've said it before, but your reviews are always entertaining to me, even when you didn't like the book. And when you do love the book, your enthusiasm jumps off the page. This one looks and sounds so good!

  14. I didn't realize this is historical fiction. Your enthusiasm is contagious! Thanks for the giveaway!

  15. I have a copy of this; you make me want to read it immediately!

  16. I will be reading this one soon so I am so glad to see that you loved it!

  17. I'm so glad that you enjoyed this one...this makes me more apt to read it since it came unsolicited, thought he publicist somehow thought I had read and loved a previous book of Avery's and I've never even heard of her!

  18. What a wonderful comment about Ellis Avery from you and New York Press...I plan to take your advice and read this author!

    The setting, Paris in the 20s, doesn't get much better and I'm really excited that you loved all of the characters, even the jerks, love that!
    This book sounds amazing and fascinating. I loved this review, Audra, thank you!