Girl in the Afternoon
I was drawn to Girl In the Afternoon primarily because of its setting. I love books set in Paris, and, if they include references to the art world, that’s all the better. So, I leapt at the chance to review this. Sadly, the book did not live up to my expectations.
Eighteen-year-old Aimée Savaray wants nothing more than to become a respected painter. She isn’t sure how she’ll achieve this goal, since the art scene of the 1870’s is dominated by men who aren’t very willing to open their ranks to a woman. Still, Aimée is sure she’ll manage to make her dream come true somehow.
And she has another secret desire. She yearns to be loved by Henri, the young boy her parents took in and raised alongside her. She and Henri share a love of art, and, as years pass, they fall in love. At least, Aimée is pretty sure Henri loves her. When he disappears without a word to her or anyone else in the family, she is forced to take a closer look at her feelings for Henri and his place in her life.
There is one member of Aimée’s dysfunctional family who knows why Henri left, but, of course, this person doesn’t reveal what they know. Since the story is told from various points of view, the reader is soon made aware of the identity of this person, as well as the reason Henri fled. This takes away from the suspense it seems the author was trying to cultivate.
After Henri leaves, Aimée devotes herself single-mindedly to her art. She agrees to model for renowned impressionist painter Edouard Manet in exchange for painting lessons, never expecting to become his mistress. This event will eventually lead her back to Henri, but not under happy circumstances.
As I read, I found myself wanting so much more than the author was giving. First off, I wanted to be shown things, rather than simply told about them. For example, Henri asserts that he is a selfish man, and it seems readers are just supposed to accept that at face value. We aren’t shown why he holds this view of himself.
Also, at just under 300 pages, the book feels very rushed. Ms. Burdick tries to fit a great deal into this novel, resulting in plot points not being well fleshed out and characters seeming flat. I wasn’t able to identify with anyone, making the story really hard to enjoy.
I would have liked the author to do more than pay lip-service to the fact that Aimée is a talented artist. I wanted to get a feel for what it would have been like for a wealthy young woman to force her way into the art world of the late 19th century. Unfortunately, Aimée’s love of art and her desire to become a painter felt like more of a prop, a reason to put her in Manet’s path, and not something she was truly passionate about.
We’re told time and time again that Henri left England as a child and came to live with the Savaray family, but we are never told why. This makes the whole subplot dealing with his need to come to terms with his past rather difficult to get behind. I wanted to know what had happened to make him sever all ties with his family, but answers were not forthcoming.
In short, I cannot recommend Girl In the Afternoon. It failed to inspire or move me. When I finished the book, I sighed with relief and hoped my next read would be more rewarding.