Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Book Review: Mad Enchantment

Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies
Ross King
Art, Biography, History

Ross King has written several lovely books. His best-known is Brunelleschi's Dome, which beautifully mixes art and architecture and politics and late-medieval history. I also liked The Judgment of Paris, chronicling the birth of Impressionism through the vitae parallelae of Ernest Meissonier (then famous, now obscure) and Edouard Manet (then obscure, now famous).

Mad Enchantment doesn't rise to that level. King's writing isn't the problem; it's his choice of subject matter. Justly famous though the Water Lilies series is, the story around it isn't really all that remarkable. In particular, a big chunk of Mad Enchantment involves the years-long negotiations surrounding Monet's donation of an indeterminate number of paintings to France. The unfortunate fact is that bureaucratic wrangling--however artistic the domain--is just not dramatic.

As Tracy Kidder has observed, "the techniques of fiction never belonged exclusively to fiction." The best parts of Mad Enchantment involve Monet himself: his tantrums, his fits of furious energy, his personal tragedies, his life at Giverny, and most especially his friendship with Georges Clemenceau (who was Prime Minster of France during World War I, among other things). Those parts make a story. The remainder. . . eh.


  1. So a thick novel in search of a good short story?

    1. Not even that. There's not enough story there to make any kind of fiction, no matter how short. The best non-fiction reads like a narrative. This isn't it.