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

2.99  ·  Rating details ·  608 ratings  ·  158 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
...more
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published September 17th 2013 by William Morrow
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Susan Vreeland
Nov 05, 2013 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
Katie
Aug 07, 2013 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
...more
Colleen Martin
Aug 08, 2013 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.
Leslie
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
Emily
Aug 02, 2013 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
Julie Brickman
Sep 27, 2013 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
Leigh Kramer
Jan 06, 2014 rated it liked it
I won't think of the French Revolution in the same way after reading this book. The past storyline, set in the years leading up the Revolution and then after, centers on a painter and her reflections on her life. The present storyline is about a writer who has just finished a novel about the French painter. They are both "old" women and it was interesting to have two main characters who frankly assessed the limits and benefits of their age. The book alternates these viewpoints, with the past sto ...more
J. Whitley
Jul 07, 2013 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
...more
Josh
Aug 28, 2013 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
Carol
Oct 01, 2013 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
Jacqie
Sep 27, 2013 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
Sarah Holz
Sep 08, 2013 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
Bethany
May 16, 2014 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.
Vickie
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
...more
Linda
Aug 06, 2013 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
...more
Jane
May 28, 2014 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
Donna
Jan 18, 2014 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
Cindy
Oct 21, 2013 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
...more
Lacygnette
Apr 09, 2014 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
Linda
Dec 28, 2013 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
Nancy
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
...more
Zoe
Aug 31, 2013 added it
Shelves: 2014
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
Gay Howard
Jul 24, 2014 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
Kay Robart
Sep 03, 2013 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:

http://whatmeread.wordpress.com/tag/t...
Lyn
Dec 19, 2015 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!
Meagan
Apr 02, 2014 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.
Ashley
Jun 03, 2016 rated it liked it
I love the premise and idea of this book!!! Didn't enjoy the actual stories as much as the idea.
Dianeparente62gmail.com
Jun 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Perhaps it is misleading to give this novel four stars since one half of it was tedious and painfully introspective, but the other part is outstanding in its depiction of the life of a noted French artist, Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun whose life spanned parts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The author tells each story in alternating chapters, and it is this contrastingstyle which leads this reader to wish that the story of the modern author, who has just finished a book about the artist, ...more
Amy Bonesteel
Jul 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
I can understand that some found this pretentious or confusing. Some may have a problem with the dual stories and the jumping time frames - I happened to love it, and thought it worked. The subject of two "mature" (a novelist and court portrait painter) and their passion for their respective art is a worthy and unexplored topic - the two narratives were entertaining, lyrical and very human. The settings (Old Louisville and Paris) were as much a part of the stories as the women themselves.
Kathy
Jul 27, 2017 rated it liked it
This was really two books within one book. I did enjoy this story, but I did find there to be a lot of repetition in the storytelling. I don't need to be reminded constantly about who a certain character is.
Otherwise thought the writing was good.
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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