Bridget's Reviews > Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman
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Apr 16, 09

bookshelves: 2009-reads
Recommended to Bridget by: A review when it was first published.
Recommended for: Art lovers, historical fiction lovers.
Read in April, 2009, read count: 1

I remember reading a review of this book when it was first published a few years ago, and thinking that I really wanted to read it. Then I promptly forgot all about it. So when I was at the local branch of the public library trolling for titles and saw it, I happily grabbed it from the shelf.

A work of historical fiction, Chessman has created a small, intimate look at a three-year period in the life of artist Mary Cassatt (called “May” by her family) and her parents and older sister, Lydia. During the time, they are living in France, and Lydia has been diagnosed with Bright’s Disease. The relationship between May and Lydia is a close, sisterly one, as well as one between an artist and her favorite model.

The book is divided into five parts, each one relating to one of Cassatt’s paintings featuring Lydia as the primary subject/model. The story is from Lydia’s perspective and is at times happy, sad, passionate, and frustrated. She knows that her disease has no cure and will likely kill her, but her family – at least in the beginning of the book – goes out of their way to ignore this fact. By the end, Lydia shows us how she has discovered that May realizes the end is near, and what she is doing to make sure the world never really loses her.,
I found this book really enjoyable, which is I’m sure partly because I am a fan of Mary Cassatt. But more than that, Lydia’s story made Mary seem like a real person, and likewise, the relationship between the two of them reminded me that people in paintings are/were not static figures from the imagination of the artist. They were real people who walked, talked, ate, drank, etc., and are captured at a moment in time, or in the created surroundings of the artist.

It was also interesting to hear the characters talk casually about artists such as Edgar Degas, Berthe Morisot, and Edouard Manet. Like the people in their paintings, I often forget that the painters were real flesh and blood as well.
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