Kitty's Reviews > Strapless

Strapless by Deborah Davis
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Oct 25, 10

bookshelves: art, bios-and-memoirs, france, the-american-south, victorians
Read from October 21 to 24, 2010

I'm going easy on this review partly because it was a very entertaining read and made my lunch break at work more enjoyable and partly because I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that Davis's writing wasn't half as vacant as I expected it to be from her bio on the back.

Strapless is not, as others have commented, a particularly deep or scholarly work. It's a light, entertaining read for those already familiar with Sargent's works who wish to know a little more about one of his most famous subjects. While I would recommend the book to anyone looking to find out more about one of the most infamous painted works in modern art, while I was reading through the text I found myself thinking time and time again that a person who knows a bit more about other artists, painters and musicians of the time will get more out of this. After all, I doubt the average "Joe" on the street will understand what she means when she makes a comparison between the scandals surrounding both Madam X and Manet's Le déjeuner sur l'herbe. However I can't imagine this would hinder anyone's appreciation of the book.

I was very pleased with the amount of research Davis has put into her book and even though I consider myself to be a huge Sargent fan I found even a few tidbits of information that I hadn't known before. For someone who has their background in screen writing she also managed to stay blissfully free of the trap that so many other pop historians fall into - superimposing her own feelings about people onto certain events and situations. Davis does a find job of sticking to facts and even took the time to rereview several of her peers who had previously written on Sargent in order to debunk a few glaring errors in their research.

My only complaint about this book is that she seems to have trouble making it all mesh together. We jump from one story to the next, from one fact to the next without any connective tissue between them to flesh out the body of work. And while Davis obviously did her homework at times it seems that she did it a little too well. An entire passage in the beginning of the book is dedicated to the rise of Paris's first department store with out apparent meaning or connection to the story at hand.

But really when all is said and done Davis does deserve her due and for choosing a subject that would inevitably be scrutinized so closely by so many people, and she has yet to do disservice to her readers. Four stars well earned.
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