Where the Light Falls by Katherine Keenum
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book was at turns fascinating and frustrating, and I'm still not sure where I stand on it.
The fascinating part was exploring pre-Belle Epoque Paris, with the changing mores and the advent of the Impressionist movement. Because Jeannette aspires to be an artist, there's lots of discussion about the propriety of painting nudes (male and female), the process of learning to be a painter, how the Salon show worked, etc.. Her Cousin Effie was very much the poor cousin, albeit one who wasn't exactly poor, and makes herself indispensable both in New York and Paris, giving Jeannette's life a veneer of propriety in addition to helping them gain entree into a world (that of the Renicks) by becoming a sort of companion to Mrs. Renick.
The frustrating part was that despite 450+ pages none of this is gone into in the detail that I'd like. The bohemian life of some of the artists Jeanette gets to know is not as finely drawn as it could have been. How social life in Paris were changing is not as clearly spelled out (although the fashion changes are). Some things are taken for granted, like the readers familiarity with the 1848 revolution in Germany and why Theodore is unable to return, but Edward is. Etc.
I'm also not happy with the blurbage: this is not an extraordinary debut novel, nor is there any mystery here. It's a perfectly good work of historical fiction that with reasonable success blends the famous (John Sargent) and the imaginary.
ARC provided by publisher.