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Friday, April 20, 2012

The Last Nude

The Last Nude
Ellis Avery
Riverhead Books, 2012

Young Rafaela has escaped an arranged marriage by getting lost in 1920s Paris. Her parents put her on a boat to Italy but she traded sex for a train ticket, clothes, shoes, and, once in desperation, money. When she meets art deco artist Tamara de Lempicka, the two hit it off, professionally and sexually, and Rafaela becomes immortalized in a series of paintings that become famous.

Rafaela has never experienced the kind of passion she finds with her lover Tamara, but she feels unbalanced by the older woman’s power and control over her. Tamara pays her for her services as a model, but as the affair continues, Rafaela falls in love and will do anything to protect and defend Tamara, even when the painter manipulates two different men who want to buy a painting in which Rafaela is featured. As Tamara schemes and plays the two buyers against the other, Rafaela is torn between believing she has a future with the painter and the fear that Tamara is just using her for her own gain.

This novel is rich with details of the Roaring Twenties in expat Paris. Based on the actual artist and model, the imagined romance of the two brings to life the carefree and indulgent decade that enabled Gertrude Stein, Picasso, and Hemingway to create great art. Told from the viewpoint of the young and na├»ve Rafaela, the reader will understand and appreciate the ups and downs, hope and disillusionment, and finally, the bitterness and despair that she experiences during her first love affair. Although this novel is defined by its rich and complex characters, the plot is interesting and compelling and will keep you guessing all the way to the somewhat disappointing ending.


Other novels by this author:

The Teahouse Fire (2006)

Other titles you may enjoy:

Twilight by Katherine Mosby (2005)
Breaking her engagement to an undesirable partner in the years preceding World War II, Lavinia Gibbs rebuilds her life in Europe, where she experiences a sexual and political awakening at the side of enigmatic Frenchman Gaston Lesseur.

The Art of Seduction by Katherine O’Neal (2007)
Faking her own death to finally get her haunting, sensual paintings noticed by the world, Mason Caldwell, masquerading as her surviving "sister" Amy, reaps the rewards of fame, wealth, and privilege, gaining entrance to haute Paris, where a dangerously sexy art expert calls her bluff.

I am Madame X by Gioia Diliberto (2003)
Follows the life of Virginie Gautreau, the subject of John Singer Sargent's controversial portrait "Madame X," from her Creole youth and flight to France during the American Civil War, to her marriage to a prominent banker.

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