It’s my third novel of Susan Vreeland and I believe I’m not stopping anytime soon. Known for her portrayal of women artists like Gentileschi and Carr, in Lisette’s List, Vreeland veered away from that premise. Instead of depicting an artist’s life, she draws the few infamous artists’ personalities through the memories of an old man who is adamant to share his past to his young grand daughter-in-law.
Not quite as riveting as her other books. Still, there are things to be engaged on. Lisette’s List displays a dynamic portrait of a small town in Vichy France before the tumult of the Second World War and its residents.
Pascal’s little dribbles on the personas of infamous artists he met when he was young allows for a fascinating glimpse of their art life and philosophies. Lisette and I didn't warm up instantaneously to each other but through her list, there was a gradual connection as she comes into her own and grows fond of her quirky neighbors.
There's a scatter of sorrow, betrayal, bouts of delights and small town political intrigue because of the advent of the war, but what remained to me were the secondary figures; the townsfolk and their varying characters; from the most gregarious to the less trusted one. They all make a colorful painting in the canvas of small town life.
Pascal once worked in the nearby ochre mines and later became a pigment salesman and frame maker; while selling his pigments in Paris, he befriended Pissarro and Cézanne, some of whose paintings he received in trade for his frames. Pascal begins to tutor Lisette in both art and life, allowing her to see his small collection of paintings and the Provençal landscape itself in a new light. Inspired by Pascal’s advice to “Do the important things first,” Lisette begins a list of vows to herself (#4. Learn what makes a painting great). When war breaks out, André goes off to the front, but not before hiding Pascal’s paintings to keep them from the Nazis’ reach.
With German forces spreading across Europe, the sudden fall of Paris, and the rise of Vichy France, Lisette sets out to locate the paintings (#11. Find the paintings in my lifetime). Her search takes her through the stunning French countryside, where she befriends Marc and Bella Chagall, who are in hiding before their flight to America, and acquaints her with the land, her neighbors, and even herself in ways she never dreamed possible. Through joy and tragedy, occupation and liberation, small acts of kindness and great acts of courage, Lisette learns to forgive the past, to live robustly, and to love again.
Title: Lisette's List
Author: Susan Vreeland
Genre: Historical Fiction, Art
Published: August 2014
Publisher: Random House
Rating: ♨♨♨ (3 cups - A bit wanting from Susan Vreeland but this was engaging enough, even just for the charms of a small town in Vichy France)