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

2.96 of 5 stars 2.96  ·  rating details  ·  453 ratings  ·  132 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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Susan Vreeland
Jan 15, 2014 Susan Vreeland rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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
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
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.
JRobin Whitley
Jul 08, 2013 JRobin Whitley rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
An excellent novel intertwining the lives of an established author, Kathryn Callaghan, and the portrait painter who is the subject of her just-completed first draft of a novel, Elisabeth Viglee-LeBrun. The story takes place within 24 hours for Kathryn, in Old Louisville (Kentucky?), and within Elisabeth's entire life, which was in France in the 1700s. The insights into the process of the painter are wonderful; they made me wish I saw the world as Elisabeth did and could paint as she did. I would ...more
I’ve enjoyed three of Naslund’s other novels immensely, so this one was disappointing: a mash up that didn’t work from me. You can tell from the title she wasn’t sure what to do with it. It’s two novels in one. We meet the almost 70-year-old novelist who lives on St. James Court in Louisville – like Naslund. She has just finished a novel about the famous 18th c. painter, Elisabeth Vigée LeBrun, who painted Marie Antoinette many times and so was in danger during the French Revolution. She and her ...more
Jeanne Halloran
Expertly narrated, this novel tells the tale of a fictional writer (Ryn Callaghan) and the historical artist (Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun). Both tales are wondrously woven together so to capture the hues and light off of each tale to shine upon the other in the telling of these two stories. I found that I could not put this novel down, so delighted was I in the reading. The author's use of description was so finely crafted that it were as if she were using a paint brush to detail out the scenery. My ...more
Nancy Newcomer
I was hoping this book would grab me by the throat and drag me onward through to the last page as she did with "Ahab's Wife" and "Abundance" -- two of my favorite books. But it was not to be. Naslund is an amazing writer and there were some wonderful passages but overall the two storylines just didn't work or even complement each other. I am baffled about why she actually wrote this book. Too much research left over from "Abundance" on Marie Antoinette's portrait artist? And the modern story abo ...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
More about Sena Jeter Naslund...
Ahab's Wife, or The Star-Gazer Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette Four Spirits Adam & Eve Sherlock in Love: A Novel

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