A review of the novel Rodin’s Lover by Heather Webb
The name of Auguste Rodin is synonymous with the emotionally charged sculptures he created, and practically everyone recognizes his iconic “Thinker.” However, far fewer people know the name or the work of Camille Claudel, his student and the woman who shocked the art world of Paris, because of her gender, her own incredible talent, the love affair she had with her mentor and teacher and finally, because of her mental instability.
If Rodin was a rebel of the art world of his time, than his student Camille Claudel was his foremost co-conspirator. Their mutual passion for sculpting led the way for their passion for each other, and their relationship fluctuated from being harmonious to poisonous. At the same time, both were uncompromising in how they portrayed their subjects, both put their whole beings into their work and both of them suffered for their art and because of each other. Mere words are often insufficient for these types of souls, but that’s what makes their tumultuous story so irresistible.
Thank goodness, Webb didn’t resist telling their tale. Her ambitious portrayal of these epical people focuses on Camille’s side of the story. In it, she takes us from just before Camille becomes Rodin’s student, until her being committed to a mental institution. All of this happened over a period of only 10-15 years. By constraining the narrative to the most dramatic era of these two people’s lives, Webb hones in on the very depths of their spirits. She then exposes them on the page with elegant prose that’s redolent, often frighteningly vivid and therefore ultimately fascinating.
Underneath all this, we learn the inner workings of the Paris during an era that eschewed women as being serious in any of the arts. The amount of Claudel’s acceptance in this world was only partially due to Rodin’s own nudging, which would have been ignored (in part because of their affair) had her talent not been worth a second look. Judging from the pictures of her work that I’ve seen, she certainly lived up to that recognition. Since many of my favorite artists are from this era, I now feel ashamed that I didn’t know more about Claudel before I started reading this novel.
It must be obvious by now that I adored this book. Webb has outdone herself here by bringing us a masterful piece of fiction based on a lesser-known historical figure whose genius should never have been ignored. If this book doesn’t make you want to Google her and her work, then nothing will. This is why I can wholeheartedly recommend this novel with a full five stars out of five.
“Rodin’s Lover” by Heather Webb published by Penguin, released January 27, 2015 will be available on Kindle from Amazon, Nook from Barnes & Noble, as an iBook from iTunes, in paperback from The Book Depository, or from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the author for sending me an advance copy for review.
Heather Webb is also the author of “Becoming Josephine,” a historical fiction novel about Josephine Bonaparte.