Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Book Review: Victorine by Drema Drudge

I am La Parisenne, the notion of the representative Parisian woman; I am Paris. From the scores of paintings of me to this newest way of showing all a woman is. From fashion to action, I do as I please.

This debut novel joins one of my favorite genres of historical fiction, that of restoring personhood to a forgotten figure -- usually one associated with a famous white guy. In this case, Druge breathes life back into Victorine Meurent, a notorious painter now mostly remembered for modeling for Manet.


Victorine by Drema Drudge
Fleur-de-Lis Press, 2020
Digital review copy provided by author via France Book Tours

But as Drudge so deftly demonstrates, Victorine was more than a passive figure sitting around without agency. Victorine's voice is centered -- first person, present tense -- making it impossible to ignore her. Even more, her every action is driven by frustrated desire to make art. Capital A art, too, not, as she so aptly puts it, "paint[ing] flowers on a cup that someone is going to drink from without seeing."

Set in Paris in the late 1800s, Druge depicts a Paris that is both alluring as well as stifling. Victorine is not wealthy, so she has to scratch out to get the things she needs, but she has no shame about it. She's almost vicious in her pursuit of her artistic ambition and freedom, and it was so refreshing to read a heroine who was unapologetic about the pursuit of her genius (even though society hated her for it). She also has fierce opinions about art (I'm unsure if these reflect her actual thoughts or are the imaginings of Drudge) but through her, I got a small education in late 19th-century French art.

Each chapter focuses on a painting featuring Victorine, and often dives into the making of said painting; it means this book is a mix of history and art nerdiness combined with dishy drama of sex, gossip, and drink. Given Victorine's storied life, Drudge does a great job of focusing on a handful of key figures and relationships, making it easy to get lost with Victorine.

There's no Author's Note in the novel, sadly, so it's impossible to tell what is 'historical' versus what is embellishment. It's doubly sad as it appears Drudge did some significant research into Victorine Meurent and appears to be the first person to publish Meurent's self portrait outside of an auction catalog (all this learned from a fab post Drudge wrote for Art Herstory).

5 comments :

  1. Thank you so much for the kind, thoughtful review, Audra. I'm just delighted. Alas, I wish I had thought to add an author's note. I don't know why I didn't think to. :-)

    Unfortunately, we know very little about Victorine's life and what we do "know" is disputed. So while I was sad to know so little, I also enjoyed the freedom it gave me to interpret her in light of what we do know.

    Thanks again for reviewing my book!

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  2. Wow, thanks so so much for your fabulous review. Perfect conclusion to a great tour. I'm glad you thoroughly enjoyed the book and discovered a new artist, and a new author! Be sure to join us for our webinar, where you can listen to Drema and 3 other authors, also on French artists, and get to ask your own questions, and win a book! Check it out: https://tinyurl.com/FBTMay08

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  3. For your readers who might want to enter the giveaway, please come this way: https://francebooktours.com/2021/01/28/drema-drudge-on-tour-victorine/Bakker

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  4. Great review! It doesn't sound like my personal cup of tea, but it's good to have it on my librarian's radar.

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  5. The subject was new to me. I like the setting and the era as well. Thank you for a well thought out review.

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