by Julie HaleDecember, 2004
The Forest Lover
By Susan Vreeland As in her previous books Girl in Hyacinth Blue and The Passion of Artemesia, Vreeland takes as her focus the subject of painters and painting. Here, she fictionalizes the life of Canadian artist Emily Carr (1871-1945). Carr's quest to capture Native American culture in the late 1800s led her into the wilds of British Columbia, where she painted totem poles and other artifacts of the Pacific Northwest Indian tribes. Such work was unheard for a woman at the time, and Carr was frowned upon by her family and by polite society. Yet, despite the scandal, she thrived as an artist. When the novel opens, she is a defiant, ambitious young woman of 30. Vreeland traces her life over the course of two decades, chronicling a year she spent studying with famous painters in Paris, recounting her friendship with a Squamish basket weaver named Sophie Frank, and fabricating a love interest for her in the character of a French fur trader. Using Carr's personal journals as a primary source, Vreeland, writing with an eye for authentic detail and an ear for convincing dialogue, mixes fact and fiction to create a remarkable narrative about a woman brave enough to forge her own destiny and to help preserve a dying heritage. A reading group guide is available online at www.penguin.com.