Audio review and book club notes: Claude and Camille by Stephanie Cowell

10 Nov

Claude and CamilleClaude & Camille: A Novel of Monet

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed reading Claude and Camille, and yet found myself wishing for something a little more, or maybe a little different.

Summary via Stephanie Cowell’s website:

In his early twenties, Claude Monet came to Paris, determined to make a success in painting. He quickly found poverty, obscurity and a beautiful upper-class girl Camille who threw away a life of privilege to be with him. He also made friends with a group of likewise unknown painters, often as poor as he was: Renoir, Pissarro, Degas, Bazille, Manet and Cezanne and somehow through every obstacle in the world kept them together until they began to be known as impressionists. But the years of struggle and life in wretched rooms with little food began to wear on his patience and Camille’s endurance until even as he was beginning to sell his work, their passionate love was descending into tragedy and he was beginning to understand that he had never completely known her.

I never really connected with the character of Monet. Through the book, I got to know him as a person, but I’m not sure he was a person I would have particularly liked. He was driven by his art, and this left him feeling entitled to support from his family well into his 20s, and led him to live beyond his means at several different points in his life. I got something of a feeling for him as a painter, but not as a genius. I never saw through his eyes as an artist who changed the artistic world.

However, Claude and Camille wasn’t the story of a painter, it was the story of a relationship. With that perspective, I was much more interested in the character of Camille. I didn’t understand or agree with her decisions either, but somehow I found her more accessible, and I think I would have loved the book if it was told from her viewpoint.

Camille was a young woman so swept away by her love for her young man that she ran off with him, living with him and bearing his child in a day when women of her class just didn’t do such things. She also suffered from very dark periods, where even getting out of bed was difficult, and living the life of an artist’s wife was nearly impossible.

I loved the look into a setting that I wasn’t particularly familiar with. I also was unfamiliar with Claude Monet’s background, so I can’t speak at all to how closely the book sticks to the commonly known story.

Book Club Notes:

I read Claude & Camille for my Book Club M.  There were five of us at the meeting, and although no one disliked the book, we varied widely in how much we liked it.  There was one member that couldn’t put it down, one that was disappointed, and the rest of us were somewhere in between.

We had a really good discussion of the book, starting with what we were looking for and didn’t find.  As I mentioned above, I would have preferred Camille’s viewpoint.  The member that was the most disappointed wanted more of the painting, wanted to feel what it was like to touch the brushes and see the world. Others wanted more insight into the artistic vision of Monet and his contemporaries.

We also enjoyed talking about the motivations of the characters, and about the cost of genius (and why there always seems to be a tradeoff– there don’t seem to be well balanced, personable geniuses in life or literature).

Stephanie Cowell will e-mail you book club discussion questions, her e-mail is available on her website.  I didn’t realize this, and didn’t ask until I was on the way to our discussion, but I received them before we finished and they brought us back on topic when we started wandering on to other subjects.

Audio Notes:

Narrator: Christopher Cazenove has a very nice voice, and I had no problems with his narration.

Production: No issues with it.

Audio or print? Honestly, when I think back on this book, I’m hard pressed to remember that I listened to it– I just remember  the story.  I then wonder if there is any point to having this section of my review, if I don’t have anything to say about the audio aspects.  I decided that fact was worth pointing out.  So no, I don’t have any recommendations on audio vs. print.  Choose the delivery mechanism that works best for you.

1 Comment

Posted by on November 10, 2010 in Book Club, books, M, reviews


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One response to “Audio review and book club notes: Claude and Camille by Stephanie Cowell

  1. Amy

    November 10, 2010 at 10:53 am

    This is a wonderful post about Claude and Camille. I really appreciate that you included your book club member’s reactions to the book as well as your own in-depth review. I was initially attracted to this book by the beautiful cover. I’m also a fan of Monet but I think I may be disappointed when I read this book since it sounds like he’s not the nicest person. I also really enjoy good, solid character development which it sounds like is somewhat lacking here.
    I’m certainly going to consider reading this book but will keep in mind your review!
    ~ Amy


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