5★ A rich and rewarding story set between the two World Wars
With Monet's Shadow, Jennifer Pulling picks up from where she left with her previous Monet's Angels: the great painter is now dead, the Water Lilies Series that so occupied the last part of Monet's life is now hanging in a Museum in Paris, Monet's stepdaughter Blanche and the friends still living in Giverny are now old themselves, and some have gone forever or left France.
If Monet's Angel's celebrated the life and almost tyrannical vigour of a great Master, often exercised on Blanche, and the entourage of young people, ex-pats and artists living daringly in Giverny at the time, Monet's Shadow offers a more sombre view, that of maturity and old age.
And with that the themes of the past encroaching on the present, of regrets and lost opportunities, of choices made and their consequences, of generational contrasts and clashes.
Of course the memory of the Great War and the looming of another World conflict so soon after the first one, cast another Shadow on the minds and lives of the characters to various degrees.
Another great theme in the book is that of the choices and sacrifices made by women, which is especially evident in Blanche, the dutiful stepdaughter who sacrifices the chance of a different life to Monet and Art. Would she do it now if she had her choices again?
But Monet's Shadow in not a gloomy book: there are the magnificent gardens at Giverny, Monet's Water lilies pond, in all their glory of colour and perfume, to give solace to the spirit, to keep people occupied, to offer meditation and peace. There's enduring friendship (I loved Robert and David), solidarity and help through the difficult times, there's art and the purpose and comfort that it provides, there are the blossoming lives of the new generations and the chance to understand that perhaps however one's life has gone, maybe that was the way it was meant to be all along.
Besides all that, the book is very well written and researched and the historical background fits naturally in the story.
Lastly, although Monet's Shadow is the follow up to Monet's Angel's, it is perfectly possible to enjoy each book individually and separately. They are fully formed stories in their own right. I loved both of them.
5★ Great read and mastery of research
Monet’s Shadow is where generations collide, and the secrets of past relationships threaten disastrous consequences for young and old.
The lives of Monet’s circle of family, artists and servants who lived in his shadow are deftly drawn; I was particularly taken by the character Robert who has, I feel, a depth to match his years. Monet’s stepdaughter Blanche sacrificed much in living as he demanded, including love and wider recognition as an artist. As she looks back, I wonder if women today would make the choices she made. Many years after Claude Monet’s death and within the gardens Blanche creates her own romantic homage to the man she loved and lost. Will history repeat itself as a beautiful young American is attracted to the good-looking French boy and will the older generation prevent their union.
Jennifer Pulling’s mastery of research shows in the detailed depiction of the gardens which will delight gardeners and artists alike. This is a bittersweet tale set between two world wars; a period which seems to have a character of its own, which all adds to the mix of the Giverny community, the rural French and those drawn to the area by Monet’s influence. As the war approaches with the Nazi regime coming ever closer the writer creates an atmosphere that makes you worry about what and who will be lost.