Degrees of Separation

Using a fellow writer’s suggestion of six degrees of separation connecting books, authors, and articles, I started with the travel section of the New York Times and found 1) an artist, who led to 2) an author, 3) a new book, 4) a reminder of a novel reviewed, 5) an obituary, and ended with 6) a slight deviation off course to books on psychology.
content   Starting with Suzanne MacNeil’s description of Vancouver Island’s lush beauty, I found Canadian artist Emily Carr, whose famous work documented the beauty of the region.  Her book Klee Wyck (“Laughing One”) was published in 1941 to document her efforts to sketch and paint the totem poles found on the Queen Charlotte Islands.

“And, who, you might ask is Emily Carr?…Painter, writer, admirer of forests and totem poles…environmentalist before the word was popular…an ardently independent woman at a time when women weren’t necessarily applauded for striking out on their own…Besides the statue and all the things named after her, including a university in Vancouver, she has been the subject of biographies, films and a novel (by an American, no less — the late Susan Vreeland). “

fl-cover-2-200   I wondered about the mention of a novel based on the artist,  and found Forest Lover by Susan Vreeland, historical fiction based on Carr’s life as a Canadian artist.  The book includes some of Carr’s paintings.  Had I read anything by Susan Vreeland? Why did her name sound familiar? A quick search led me to my review of Clara and Mr. Tiffany. 225x225bb   MacNeil referred to the author as “the late Susan Vreeland”?  Her recent obituary from this past August noted her breakout novel in 1999 – The Girl in Hyacinth Blue, and another I’d read – Lisette’s List.

51ZfXSH8Y-L._AC_US218_  MacNeil described Carr as “an ardently independent woman at a time when women weren’t necessarily applauded for striking out on their own…” diverting me to Penelope Green’s article in the Style section on Gretchen Rubin’s new book The Four Tendencies.   Rubin’s theory proposes that everone falls into one of four personality types (the new Myers Briggs categorization), depending on their answers to a short quiz asking how they respond to expectations.   I wondered how Emily Carr fit into Rubin’s classifications. Would Emily Carr be a Questioner, an Upholder, an Obliger, or a Rebel? Maybe a little of the first and last, or maybe leaning to the label I received after taking Rubin’s test – Questioner.

51np2MaD5FL._AC_US218_  Rubin’s mention of the Harry Potter sorting hat led to Carol Dweck’s Mindset, a book advising readers of their possibilities when they change their view about themselves – “rigid thinking benefits no one, least of all yourself.”  According to Dweck, everyone has the ability to change their minds about what they can do and who they are, no matter what the personality test label or the sorting hat has identified them as,  and Bill Gates’s review of the book offered more insights.

The article in the Style section was right above an article by Gabrielle Zevin. Hadn’t I just read snd reviewed her new book Young Jane Young? This article had a funny and inviting title – The Secret to Marriage is Never Getting Married.

And so I ended my degrees quest connecting with:

  1. Klee Wyck by Emily Carr
  2. Forest Lover Fby Susan Vreeland
  3. Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
  4. The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin
  5. Mindset  by Carol Dweck
  6. The Secret to Marriage is Not Getting Married by Gabrielle Zevin

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Returning to Provence in Books

9781400068173_p0_v1_s260x420Revisiting Provence through Susan Vreeland’s Lisette’s List has me hungry for the sweet melons and salty olives, yearning for the light captured by Cezanne, Pissarro, and Van Gogh, and missing the Mistral wind.   Vreeland’s descriptions are so accurate, she must have been there.  Like her other novels based on history and art – Luncheon of the Boating Party and Girl in Hyacinth Blue – Vreeland weaves fact with fiction.

GetAttachment-4.aspxThe tale is set in the town of Roussillon, where I recently visited the ochre hills, source of the famous pigment used in paintings. Cezanne, beloved son of Provence, whose paintings were inspired by Montagne Sainte-Victoire, the mountain overlooking Aix- en-Provence, is alive in the story, making my recent visit to his studio, seeing his paint- stained smock and replicas of his famous apples, take on GetAttachment-3.aspxmore meaning.   In Vreeland’s narrative, Pascal, the old grandfather and frame maker, recalls his friendship with the painter, who traded the paintings now hanging in Pascal’s old house, for frames.

The war intrudes on the idyll, as Vreeland uses the paintings hidden from the Nazis as the vehicle for the story’s dramatic arc as well as more travel through the French countryside. Chagall enters the narrative as the war takes its toll on the small towns in Provence, his hiding place from the Nazis, before he escapes with his wife to America.

Lisette’s list begins as she is trying to adjust to married life and the move from Paris to the country, but grows into a set of vows marking her independence and her determination to find the paintings and restore both the art and her life.  You may enjoy Lisette’s awakening to art through Vreeland’s romantic historical fiction, but her story was too slow and contrived for me.  The vivid descriptions of life in Provence were more satisfying than the long hunt for the missing paintings – maybe because I have just been there.

Although the book was recommended reading before I travelled, I had forgotten about it until a friend recently reminded me of Lisette. The book brought back the quiet beauty and simplicity of the provincial life, and reminded me of my own wonderful journey.

And, now I look forward to more memories of Provence, as I read Iris Murdoch’s Nuns and Soldiers, recommended by another friend who understands my yearning for more reminders of Southern France. Have you read it?

Related Review:   Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland