Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Review: Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scot Chessman

Synopsis: Nineteenth-century Paris comes radiantly alive in the richly imagined novel about the intimate relationship between celebrate Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt and her sister, Lydia, Cassatt's fragile, beloved muse. Told in the voice of forty-one-year-old Lydia, who is dying of Bright's disease. Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper opens a window onto a burgeoning world of art and ideas as it captures the extraordinary age in which these sisters lived. This sweeping narrative features real-life figures like Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas, Cassatt's mercurial, charismatic mentor and includes five full-color plates of Cassatt's paintings. It is a graceful and enchanting exploration of the duels between art and desire, memory and identity, and romantic and familial love. (from the inside cover of the book)

Review: This is an ethereal, romantic work. Lydia Cassatt is dying. Both she and Mary – whom the family calls May – haven’t come to terms with this. Mary dreads a world without her sister. Lydia resents that her life is defined by loss, illness, and desires that will never be. As she poses for her sister over the span of a few years, Lydia confronts the past and the never-to-be future. There is a bittersweet feeling, a happy sorrow, a gentle letting go by each of them.
Chessman uses an almost poetic style of writing – combining gorgeous lyrical prose and poetic stylizing of the text to convey the sense of art and desire, of sorrow and love, which ties the two sisters together. Chessman attempted to stay true to Mary Cassatt’s life, taking only a small amount of writer’s license with the characters. This makes the book even richer – knowing that most of what you read is true. The book is divided into five chapters, each centered around one of five paintings May did of her sister. Included as glossy, vibrant, color pictures of each painting. This makes the book rich and gorgeous. 
For anyone who enjoys art, particularly Mary Cassatt and the Impressionists, this book is a must. I would recommend it as a vital part to any art-lovers library. 

Bookmarks: 8 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-452-28350-7
Year Published: 2001
Date Finished: 8-21-2016
Pages: 164

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