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The Fountain of St. James Court; or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman: A Novel

2.96  ·  Rating Details  ·  499 Ratings  ·  140 Reviews
How do writers and painters get their ideas? And what are the realities and heartbreaks that lie behind such seemingly glamorous and romantic lives? In her groundbreaking new novel, New York Times bestselling author Sena Jeter Naslund explores the artistic processes and lives of creative women

Sena Jeter Naslund's inspiring novel-within-a-novel, The Fountain of St. James Co
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published September 17th 2013 by William Morrow
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Great books about art
15th out of 38 books — 18 voters
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9th out of 10 books — 1 voter

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Susan Vreeland
Jan 15, 2014 Susan Vreeland rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: literary readers
Sena Jeter Naslund's courageous juxtaposition of two stories, two time periods, two styles urges us to seek parallels between a modern day writer and an eighteenth century painter, the writer having just completed a novel of the painter, Élisabeth Vigée-Le Brun, court painter to Marie Antoinette. With both narratives exploring marriage, husbands, children, and shining above all, their beloved work, one story is delivered leisurely in a single day, much like the contemplative Mrs. Dalloway; the o ...more
Sep 22, 2013 Katie rated it did not like it
Shelves: first-reads
I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.

I vowed to finish this book even if it killed me. At around page 162, I thought it might:

"Is this a day to make potato soup?" Janie asked cordially. Her voice had a juiciness to it, like an autumn-crisp apple, not a potato.

The quote that sums up this book best is on page 296:

"It's a beautiful neighborhood," Ryn babbled on. "Totally devoid of pretension, as unselfconscious as an old tree."

This book is the exact opposite of that.

The nove
Sep 05, 2013 Emily rated it it was ok
Sena Jeter Naslund is a fantastic writer. She knows how to get into the soul of her characters so that her readers really connect with experiences and emotions. However, I was disappointed by this book. The pacing was tedious at times, and the plot seemed to drag. Points in the story that could have been engaging were instead brief mentions in a string of memories. Therein lies the fundamental problem with this book-- instead of feeling as though we are witnessing events in these women's lives, ...more
I find the idea of having two stories told within a book to be an interesting concept, where you have the stories of different characters being told and finding the connection between them. Unfortunately, as interesting as the concept may seem, my experience with it in real life haven’t been very positive. The main problem I have is that I find myself only enjoying one of the stories being told while either being bored or not liking the other character’s tale. This divide in interest and attenti ...more
Julie Brickman
Sep 27, 2013 Julie Brickman rated it it was amazing
The most amazing thing about this book to me was how it captured the way writers and artists relate to each other across geography and time. While on the surface, it seems as if the two novels woven together so astonishingly in this book are not related, they are deeply linked. Fountain, set in in contemporary times, features a writer, living in a neighborhood that surrounds a beautiful fountain, finishing a new book, still at the prime of her career while also growing older. Portrait follows a ...more
Colleen Martin
Oct 22, 2013 Colleen Martin marked it as to-read
This is proving to be a very difficult read, very self-aware and pretentious. Hopefully I'll be able to settle into it.
J. Whitley
Jul 08, 2013 J. Whitley rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Janice Elsheimer, Norma Hendrix
Ahab's Wife was the first book I read by Naslund. While the first chapters of this new book did not engage me as quickly as Ahab's Wife, I pressed on because of the power of Naslund's writing style.

As a musician, writer, and novice painter, this book is a powerful read. Naslund has insights not only into the artistic processes of the painter, musician, and writer, she expresses depths of spirit that resonate deeply with my spiritual side. As an older woman, it was more difficult to read the stor
Jun 02, 2015 Carol rated it liked it
This book, The Fountain of St. James Court; or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman: A Novel, by Sena Jeter Naslund, I discovered this was not your everyday biography. I was drawn to the book because of my appreciation of the artist, Élisabeth Vigée-LeBrun, who was an excellent painter and was fortunate to have painted portraits of Marie Antoinette & family. Naslund has chosen to write in a similiar style like James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, (which I have yet to rea ...more
Sep 06, 2013 Josh rated it it was ok
Shelves: first-reads
You know how the high end TVs today have a feature where there is a "picture within the picture" so you can watch two channels at once? The one larger picture being the main show you have interest in, and another smaller one that you can keep an eye on but is a distraction of sorts to the larger show. In much that same way, this story functions. It's a little lop sided journey through two narratives of thought concerning two separate women with a strand of similar reflective remembrances on thei ...more
Sep 27, 2013 Jacqie rated it liked it
Shelves: didnt-finish
If this book had just been about the French female artist who lived during the time of the French Revolution, I most likely would have finished the whole thing. Her story, which discussed the artistic need to create, the nurturing of a talent, and a sense of vocation, was quite interesting. However, the second portrait (perhaps a self-portrait of the author, who also teaches writing and lives in Kentucky?) was a plot-less character study. It moved very slowly. There's one chapter where the chara ...more
May 16, 2014 Bethany rated it did not like it
Shelves: general-fiction
Terribly overwritten and under-edited. Only a few pages in, I found myself reading passages aloud to my husband, just so that he could laugh at the florid, self-important prose that dominates and obscures the story and characters. I was unable to finish the book because the more I read, the more the book felt like a parody of itself. If only the author was in on the joke, too.
Jan 18, 2014 Donna rated it it was ok
At some points in the story, I found myself enjoying it, but at others I found it nearly unbearable. There are far too many tedious and unneeded details in the story of Ryn particularly. How is a chronicle of a woman walking around her neighborhood and her house all day interesting enough to keep a story going? It isn't. And the way other characters (like a neighbor moving in or a little girl who lost her father) are barely introduced but then short segments are written from their perspective - ...more
I just finished The Fountain of St. James Court; or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman: A Novel by Sena Jeter Naslund and do I ever have mixed emotions. Yes, Louisville friends, that is the real fountain at St. James Court on the cover.

What I really enjoyed most about the book was the current day setting although it was tedious reading since it covered just one day. Having grown up in Louisville and attended the University of Louisville, this part of Old Louisville was like going home for
May 22, 2014 Linda rated it really liked it
Shelves: hist-fic, mod-lit, france
For the past decade, Sena Jeta Naslund has been writing novels with distinctly literary themes, drawing on material first treated by such giants as Herman Melville (Ahab's Wife) and A. Conan Doyle (Sherlock in Love). Now she gives a nod to James Joyce and Virginia Woolf in The Fountain at St. James, or The Portrait of An Artist as an Old Woman.

There are two female protagonists in Fountain, one imaginary and the other real. Kathryn Callaghan is a 21st century novelist who has just completed the f
Sarah Holz
Jan 19, 2014 Sarah Holz rated it it was ok
Ugh, this kills me because Ahab's Wife is easily one of my favorite books ever, literally. But this just pales in comparison. The Elizabeth portions are told with such a light touch by the character itself that I felt like all I did was skim over the waters of her life without truly feeling the depths. The Ryn portions arguably have more depth, but her story is arguably less interesting also. I appreciate the Mrs. Dalloway approach of her story, though I feel like Naslund should have just commit ...more
Oct 21, 2013 Cindy rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
I was sure I'd love this since I am a huge fan of Naslund's other books. I expected a good historical fiction, but Naslund decided to write about the writer writing this story. Every other chapter is about the current day author, whose story is languorously written. We see her lying in bed, sitting on the commode, daydreaming about her 3 ex-husbands. It reminded me of Mrs. Dalloway, probably because Naslund kept mentioning Mrs. Dalloway, which, by the way, I hated.

Maybe one day I will read just
Gay Howard
Aug 19, 2014 Gay Howard rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-sort-of
This book has two story lines. I liked one, and I didn't like the other at all. I tried to like it. Really, I did. But every time the story switched I found my mind wandering and then I noticed I felt mildly irritated and very bored. So I did something I'm not particularly proud of. At around page 150 I stopped reading the strange, uninteresting story line and finished reading only the interesting one for the rest of the book. This part was actually very good. Start reading this book and by 20 t ...more
May 10, 2014 Lacygnette rated it did not like it
This is marked as currently reading because I couldn't get through it. I read a lot of slow moving novels but found this one impossible. As many have said, the one novel was interesting, but the modern novel was pretentious - full of references (V. Woolf for heaven's sake, whose writing I adore)and arch comments that didn't really mean anything, at least to me. They just seemed an attempt to be clever. Even the story set in France didn't hold me, or else I'd have gone only to those chapters and ...more
I won this book in exchange for an honest review.

My honest review is that I didn't much care for this novel. I found this novel to be extremely slow. At about page 200 I had to ask myself, where is this story going? And at that point I decided I just could not put myself through the chore of finishing it.

However, the author is able to demonstrate her writing capabilities in this novel; evoking images using strong and lush prose. Unfortunately that skill did not enhance the story itself.

The his
Dec 30, 2013 Linda rated it did not like it
Shelves: gave-up
They say to give a book 50 pages before you give up. I read this until page 76. I agree with another reader who finds it pretentious and self aware. Wanted to scream at the main character to get the hell on with it. Early on there is a a seemingly random chapter with a couple walking a dog and a speeding car. As of page 76 they never returned and I have no idea why they was there, although it was the most interesting thing to happen up till this point. The child artist chapters were fine, but th ...more
Aug 31, 2013 Zoe added it
It's an intriguing premise, but after reading just the teaser given at the end of "Abundance," I cannot imagine being able to get through this book. There was an absolutely heinous lack of editing. In the sample, I couldn't concentrate on anything said for the distraction of more than half the beginnings of sentences lacking capitalization, along with words such as "october" and "louvre." Add that to paragraph-long sentences paired with choppy two-word bits. I cannot imagine reading anything fur ...more
Jun 18, 2015 Deb rated it it was ok
I'm not a huge fan of novel-within-a-novel fiction, but since this one was by the author of Ahab's Wife and at least half of it concerned the life of Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun, I thought I'd give it a try. The conceit of the book is that a contemporary writer, Kathryn, has written a new novel about the eighteenth century portraitist who was painter to the court of Marie Antoinette. As in her earlier novel Abundance, the tragic queen gets a sympathetic presentation here. Elisabeth and "Maria Antoni ...more
May 23, 2014 Tanya rated it it was ok
I tried to love this book. I like the idea of split stories- each women's experience reflecting on the other's. However Vigee's story was composed of the most superficial aspects of her biography. Pages and pages were devoted to the development of the young prodigy who was so twee and immature. The voice of the 12 year old artist was so underdeveloped and wondering she sounded like a toddler. It was so precious I could vomit. I also rail against the concept of innate genius- boring. Art is work, ...more
May 14, 2014 Nancy rated it did not like it
I knew by page 6 (the end of Chapter 1, told from Kathryn's point of view) that this novel was not for me. I kept reading through page 34, the end of Part I, just in case I was wrong, but no. At that point, I was unwilling to continue reading this overwritten, overstuffed book. I picked this book up because I'm familiar with the artist Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, and I thought a novel about her life, alternating between chapters about the 18th-century French painter and a contemporary novelist writi ...more
Morninglight Mama
Jan 19, 2016 Morninglight Mama rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, history
There’s much to love in Sena Jeter Naslund’s new novel. It features a novel inside the novel, and readers can’t help but appreciate the author’s obvious adoration of the beauty of words. The contrast of a contemporary story with a piece of historical fiction makes for an interesting reading experience, switching from one time period to another, but the parallels and common themes between the two settings and main characters keep the connection strong. Even the title itself gives the impression t ...more
Jun 06, 2014 Jane rated it it was ok
Twenty-four hours in the life of a 'pushing seventy' woman author, Kathryn Callaghan, beginning with when she leaves her latest completed novel at the door or a friend, living across the Court [Sections entitled "Fountain"]. This alternates with this novel: a French woman painter, Elizabeth Vigée-Le Brun who lived during and after the French Revolution [Sections entitled "Portrait"]. The novel consists of memories, musings, thoughts about neighbors. meetings with them and an ex-husband, and how ...more
Feb 02, 2016 Lyn rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio-books
I listend to this one, and the reader of the French artist's story was awesome. I just loved it. The writer's story? too self-consciously Mrs. Dalloway (which she kept pointing out to us) and a not-very-interesting, sort of contrived "scary" thing. But I'd recommend it as an audio-book just to hear the artist's story. That's the Sena-writing I know & love!
Apr 02, 2014 Meagan rated it it was ok
I read 100 pages and stopped. I am amazed at the difference in style between this novel and Ahab's Wife. I was not drawn into this story, cannot see how the story lines truly converge, and agree with others that this novel is too self-aware. It seems more like Naslund's self-reflection on her career thinly disguised as a novel.
Kay Robart
Sep 17, 2013 Kay Robart rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I received this book in a First Reads giveaway from Goodreads. I haven’t read Naslund before, so I am not sure whether she adapted her writing style for this novel, but it took me awhile to accustom myself to it.

See my complete review here:
Jan 24, 2016 Julie rated it it was ok
I have enjoyed most of Sena Jeter Naslund's books. None more than "Ahab's Wife" which was the first one I read. I keep hoping her others will be as enjoyable. I had high hopes for this one, but was ultimately disappointed. The juxtaposition of the two stories was interesting, but there were times when the discourse only barely held my interest. I liked how the pace of the story picked up noticeably during the dramatic moments, but when it settled back down to a casual stroll, I tended to start s ...more
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Sena Jeter Naslund is the New York Times best-selling author of five novels, including Ahab's Wife (1999) and Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette (HarperCollins, 2006). She is currently Distinguished Teaching Professor and Writer in Residence at the University of Louisville and program director of the Spalding University brief-residency Master in Fine Arts in Writing. Recipient of the Harper Le ...more
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