Sunday, November 13, 2011

Flesh and Bronze by Alison Leonard

I've known Alison Leonard quite a few years now, and this is the second book of hers that I've had the pleasure to read. The first was a book for children called Tinker's Career, which I remember as engrossing - a short book, and also one I couldn't bear to put down until it was finished. This one, which I bought from her book launch a few weeks ago, I read on my Kindle, and also listened to on my ipod. Its main publication is through the new audiobook publisher 'Books Are Loud' which Alison and a few of her cohort from Manchester Metropolitan University have set up . More details on the MMU website here.

Flesh and Bronze is extremely well read by Julia Franklin, and it a pleasure to listen to her voice, but since I tend to listen to audiobooks at night in bed and tend to drift off while listening to them, it was great to be able to read the ebook version too. Just as in Tinker's Career, I found that after a few pages I became addicted to reading this one too, pausing now and again to note the passages I particularly appreciated (and there were many) on my Kindle.

The story concerns one of Degas's former models, Juliette. One day, after Degas's death, she sees 'herself' as a beautiful young woman captured in bronze as Degas portrayed her, and this model 'herself, Beautiful' becomes a recurrent symbol of what she was, and how she still is within. Juliette is now much older and poorer. She pauses to rest in the doorway adjacent to the window in which she has seen her statue, and is eventually invited into the stairwell of the Parisian apartment by the kindly concierge.

The model is owned by a man called Didier, who aspires to accomplish great art of his own, but who has been damaged by life, just as much as Juliette. 'Trouble is' (notes Juliette) 'marble truth was too much for him. It is for most of us in the end.'

What happens next, and how Juliette's and Didier 's lives inform each others, and how they learn and are changed as a result, forms the main narrative of the book. Along the way the readers learns about Juliette's life, and also Didier's. Degas is there too, and although his presence and aspects of his life (such as his attitude to the Dreyfus affair) are important, he is never really the focus of the story.

The story is very well-researched, and this research skilfully handled with a light touch. I especially liked the passages on bronze casting, which were vivid, very interesting and added greatly to the feeling of authenticity of the setting and characters. I also learnt a lot about Degas, and living in turn-of-the-century Paris. Altogether, I found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable and informative read.


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