This is Alison's first audio title and will no doubt add greatly to her already formidable reputation as both children's author and as a playwright for Radio 4. Its publication coincides with the new exhibition now showing at the Royal Academy in London - Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement. The young dancers made immortal by the great artist were often just a step away from prostitution - a central feature of this strongly written, powerful, literary novel.
At the beginning of a long journey in time and fortune we meet Juliette who as a young woman was a beautiful and wayward prostitute. She became an artist's model for Edgar Degas and became his famous Femme Assise, a much admired sculpture that was later cast in bronze by master bronze caster, Didier. Now she is an old, raddled and homeless woman. She can't believe her eyes when she comes face to face with her young and beautiful self - bronze, shining and standing in the front window of Didier's house. Her life and the lives of everyone in Didier's household are about to change as she finds new life and a new meaning to her existence as her friendship with a little deaf boy grows, transforming and transcending all that has gone before.
©2011 Alison Leonard (P)2011 Books Are Loud
I have always admired Degas' study of ballerinas, so to have a story that is based on his art and era was fascinating. The development of the characters as the story reveals itself was excellent and the narrator made each character readily identifiable which made listening to the story lovely. I grew to like the central character of Juliette as the story unfolded both in her memories and her present. If you like historical novels or Degas' work do read this one.
I lived this book. Julia Franklin's narration is brilliant, really bringing out the different speaking voices of the rich cast of characters, the background is created in convincing detail but it is the author's expertise and empathy, her passion and humanity, that hook the listener from the first moment. Set in the Paris of the Impressionists, the novel tells the story of Juliette, from youthful high spirits to confused old woman, "stinking, with a mouthful of rotten teeth", burned out of her home with the rats for fear of plague spreading in the slums. Poor, illiuterate, she has always only had her body to make a living - as prostitute, model, wet-nurse and finally as the lowest of domestic servants. We overhear her talking to herself at first, introduced to other characters from her perspective as "Thick-Voice" and "Thin-Voice", The Beast, The Grey Angel, and, as she does, only gradually piece together the relationships of the household she is accepted in by virtue of having been Degas ' model. Slowly her strength of character reasserts itself and the plot steers us skilfully towards a sort of redemption.
It would make a wonderful film: there are so many striking scenes that come alive and go on working in the listener's mind long after the book is finished.
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