November 17, 2013

Book Review: The Fountain of St. James Court; or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman by Sena Jeter Naslund

The Fountain of St. James Court; or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman
Author: Sena Jeter Naslund
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: September 17, 2013
Publisher: William Morrow
Source: ARC from Publisher


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 Court; or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman, creates the lives of a fictional contemporary writer and of an historic painter whose works now hang in the great museums of Europe and America. Both women's creative lives have been forged in the crucibles of family, friends, society, and nation.

The story opens at midnight beside a beautifully illumined fountain of Venus Rising from the Sea. Kathryn Callaghan has just finished her novel about painter Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun, a French Revolution survivor hated for her sympathetic portraits of Marie Antoinette. Though still haunted by the story she has written, Kathryn must leave the eighteenth-century European world she has researched and made vivid in order to return to her own American life of 2012.

Naslund's spellbinding new novel presents the reader with an alternate version of The Artist: a woman of age who has created for herself, against enormous odds, a fulfilling life of thoroughly realized achievement.

The Fountain of St. James Court; or Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman is a beautiful story of the intertwining lives of a contemporary writer - Kathryn Callaghan - and the historic painter - Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun. Kathryn has written a novel about the artist and her life during the French Revolution. Kathryn becomes so wrapped up in Elisabeth's life and the time period of eighteenth-century Europe that she's finding it hard to come back to her own life in modern day America.

This novel is essentially a story-within-a-story, telling the tales of two separate yet connected main characters. Kathryn Callaghan is a modern writer who has decided to write a novel about the life of Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun. As Kathryn delves further into Elisabeth's life and the time period in which she lived, she finds herself connected to the painter in ways she never expected. Aside from Kathryn's modern day story, we also get to read about Elisabeth's life - her own story - of how she lived, painted, and her achievements. The two women are actually quite similar despite the fact that they are separated by centuries. Both Kathryn and Elisabeth are driven artists who fight to live the life they dreamed of by practicing their crafts of writing and painting. Both women go through difficult and trying times alongside their joy and achievements, which makes them incredibly realistic and accessible to the reader. The use of a novel-within-a-novel device was an interesting choice by the author and I wondered if it would work out well or turn out to be confusing to the reader. The author manages to write both women's stories with incredible detail and description so they are easily identified from one another without confusion - and yet the reader is able to see how much the two are alike. The writing was very well done with a natural flow and an engaging narrative that drew me in from the first pages. Highly recommended for fans of both contemporary and historical fiction!

*A big thanks to William Morrow for sending me a copy of the book for review!*

1 comment:

  1. Hi Steph,
    I'm nominating you for a Liebster Award! You can find my questions at