In it, we follow Claude Monet and members of his household through a single day, moving seamlessly from one to another. Each has their own concerns, their own fears and griefs. The children are accorded equal space and value in this account with the adults. There are servants: a nervous new cook, an older man who rows Claude out to paint, others. An even more important character is the garden itself, the one in Giverny that Claude has created—or had created—with an eye to light and shade and how they would change throughout the day.
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Most obviously to Claude Monet, taking as its entire subject a day in the life of the painter and his family at their home in Giverny. But also to Virginia Woolf: for her time-frame of a single day Summer, ; for her willingness to write a novel entirely of perception and feelings, without external action; and especially for her use of language less for factual Language. But also to Virginia Woolf: for her time-frame of a single day Summer, ; for her willingness to write a novel entirely of perception and feelings, without external action; and especially for her use of language less for factual communication than as an element in its own right.
It bounced from the glass panes of the greenhouse, settled into the dust where hens pecked and strutted, drank the dark stains from the drips of wet washing and water tossed out of doors. It crept up on cool zinc milk churns, standing in shadow, and lost itself in the dark thickets of yew trees standing guard over house and garden. Indoors it fell across waxed floorboards, faded bedspreads and cushions, showing up dust in rooms where the maid had not yet been.
It hummed in the wings of insects, shone on the long line of the railway track, blistered the paint of window shutters, and formed a haze, a mirage above the long gass of the pasture so that the line of trees down by the river had become dim, seemed about to dissolve in bright light, a green incandescence against the faded sky. The novella is short enough for one to read it simply as an extended prose-poem, enjoying the words for themselves, seeing the pictures that they conjure up in terms of the light and color of the Impressionist master.
Figes can write this way because, important though Virginia Woolf may be, it is Claude Monet who is her ultimate truth. But although the book invites you to read it on this sensuous level, it is not the only one. There are numerous characters other than Claude Monet himself; Figes does not supply any back-story, and only gradually do you figure out who they are and how they relate; this is a book written for those who already know Monet and something of his family.
Speaking for myself, when a writer deals with real people and real facts, I want to know those facts, so before long I was reading with iPad Wikipedia by my side. Merely-sensuous readers may do without them, but these levels helped me, so I want to address them here. First, some background, without which the characters are pretty difficult to figure out. Monet had two children with his first wife, Camille: Jean b. But Ernest declared bankruptcy and had to work away from home, leaving Monet for weeks at a time with Alice.
The group that Figes depicts at Giverny in thus includes members of both families. The two standing figures are Claude Monet left and his son Michel. The other women are all her daughters. At first I could not understand why the publishers chose an painting of Suzanne, Woman with a Parasol, for the cover of a novel set in But I reproduce it myself at the head of this review, for although Suzanne never appears, her presence and spirit fills the entire book.
Claude Monet remembers her with joy. Her mother Alice still mourns for her, falling into a deep depression. Jimmy and Lily, her two young children with her American husband, the painter Theodore Earl Butler, now live with their grandparents and are looked after by their aunt Marthe.
It dropped on her pinafore, so she picked up a handful and tossed the whole lot into the air. She watched them fall slowly, flutter, catching the slanting light. Everything smelled fresh and damp now, as though the sun, where it came through the trees, was still cool and distant. She found beads of water caught in a curl of leaf, hanging from the tips of fern, cupped in a flower. But it was in a damp corner behind a heap of drying dead flowers and cut grass that she found the most astonishing sight of all, a cobweb strung between two posts, she hardly dared breathe for fear of disturbing it, a thousand drops of water gleaming in the tension of its fragile hold.
Besides the gardener, cook, and housemaid, there are two non-family figures who may require explanation. The other is Octave Mirbeau, journalist, art critic, salon cynic, neighbor—and fellow gardener. Monet delights in taking him on a tour of the gardens, showing him the orchids in his hothouse and the latest improvements to his beloved lily pond. The gardens at Giverny today. Ah, I have you, he thought, smiling, all of you trapped, earth, water and sky.
You thought you could escape, now that I am getting old, that you could run away, now I am slowing down, too old to track you down across wild landscapes. You did not think I could seduce you by luring you into my own back yard. Although Monet would paint many other subjects, his studies of the lily pond he built at Giverny would occupy him for the last quarter-century of his life.
Figes emphasizes that this was more than a pleasant place for him to live, but a deliberate attempt to provide himself with a subject for painting that he could follow, at different times of day, and in minute variations, for years to come. She takes you with the sixty-year-old painter as he goes out in search of the pre-dawn light, puts the canvas aside as sunrise shifts the colors, takes another to capture the new effect, works for half an hour, moves on. Lily Pond and Path by the Water, Figes chose to set her novella in , no doubt because the few family events that give the book its plot—the death of Suzanne, a couple of impending marriages—center comfortably around that year.
If you look at a chronological survey of his art you can find one here , you will see that all the Giverny paintings from are richly impastoed and crammed with detail, such as the lily pond picture above. But Figes gives the painter a different vision, which he expresses in different ways several times in the short book: Almost square, a total balance between water and sky. In still water all things are still. Cool colours only, blue fading to mist grey, smooth now, things smudging, trees fading into sky, melting in water.
No dense strokes now, bright light playing off the surface of things, small, playful. I have broken through the envelope, the opaque surface of things. Odd that it should have taken so long to reach this point, knowing it, as I did, to be my element.
I was blinded, dazzled by the rush of things moving, running tides, spray caught in sunlight. Looking at, not through. The bright skin of things, the shimmering envelope. But now, before the sunrise, no bright yellow to come between me and it, I look through the cool bluegrey surface to the thing itself.
Later, she says, "He has to look through things now, since nothing is solid, to show how light and those things it illumines are both transubstantial, both tenuous. So what does it matter that it does not describe the paintings of , but the long series he began only a few years later? Water Lilies,
EVA FIGES LIGHT PDF
He felt as though the world he knew was drawing away from him, that he could hold neither shadow nor light, which had changed to something far more mysterious. Lily Pond and Path by the Water, Figes chose to set her novella inno doubt because the few family events that give the book its plot—the death of Suzanne, a couple of impending marriages—center comfortably around that year. This beautiful novella describes one day in the life of Claude Monet, his family and his friends. It was buried in her face, too, in the slack mouth and soft white cheeks, and the pale eyes loght said nothing.
Light, by Eva Figes