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I just read this book to review it for the Historical Novel Society, so i'm not allowed to re-print what i wrote for them until it comes out in printI just read this book to review it for the Historical Novel Society, so i'm not allowed to re-print what i wrote for them until it comes out in print -- but let me just say, this is an incredible "debut" novel. It's seriously metaphorical, philosophical, literary, symbolic -- and it's a good story, too! I'll be back with more detail after the HNS Review comes out, but in the meantime, look forward to reading this book!...more
Artist Edgar Degas is justly famous for his many lyrical and revealing paintings of ballerinas, but in Michael Llewellyn’s “Creole Son: A Novel of DegArtist Edgar Degas is justly famous for his many lyrical and revealing paintings of ballerinas, but in Michael Llewellyn’s “Creole Son: A Novel of Degas in New Orleans”, we are presented with a fascinating portrait of the sometimes irascible but emotionally restrained artist himself. Having left Paris after the horrors of the Prussian invasion and the terrifying slaughter of the Paris Commune, Degas sought solace in his mother’s birthplace of Le Nouveau Orleans, among the aristocratic remains of the Creole population brought low by the ravages of the Civil War and the oppressive Reconstruction Era. Llewellyn, who lived in New Orleans for a number of years, writes convincingly of a chaotic, sensual, dangerous and exotic city that is seething with racial tension, criminal politics, sexual license and moral ambiguity. Degas finds himself both repelled and intrigued by the chaos of a people trying to re-build their city after the devastation of war, lamenting what has been lost and trying to avoid inevitable changes. When I started the book, I had no idea it was going to go to these dark places, but with Degas as a companion, it was enthralling to experience the strange and haunted streets and cemeteries, Mardi Gras balls and brothels, as well as the intimacy of his daily life in his mother’s family. Llewellyn crafts a strong and persuasive argument for New Orleans having brought Degas to a new and daring way of painting, experiences that freed his artistic abilities as much as they opened his heart and soul. The descriptions of how Degas thought, observed and painted his subjects are finely wrought and very well written, showing detailed knowledge of the artist’s style and methods. A book to be savored.
I found a copy of this book in the apartment in Rome where my husband and I are staying for a week, after touring other parts of Italy (Florence, SienI found a copy of this book in the apartment in Rome where my husband and I are staying for a week, after touring other parts of Italy (Florence, Siena, Venice, Orvieto). I wouldn't have even started reading it except that we both came down with colds and needed to 'stay put' for a day or two -- WHAT a fantastic book! Of course, it's a Pulitzer Prize winner, but I had never heard of it. Jones' historical/magical-realism about the fictional Manchester County in Virginia, is a masterpiece of engaging characters, subtle language, fancy and fact. I just saw a quote from Hemingway that said something like a writer's object is not just to tell someone a story, but make the reader feel as if he or she had actually lived the story -- and that's just what Jones' book does. The characters of his black people -- slaves and free -- are enticing and very real, very human; the white folks just the same: good, bad, religious, sacriligious. The fact that there were free black people, former slaves, who went on to own land and then their own slaves is a troubling and astounding theme of the book, and very well presented from many sides of the question. Jones plays with time and events, shifting from present to future to past but seamlessly and effortlessly (it would appear). A remarkable book, worthy of time and thoughtfulness as you read it. So glad it serendipitously appeared to engage me during my 'downtime' in Rome. Now it's off to St. Peter's!...more