The latest giveaway novel this pedometer geek read was Rebecca Glenn’s debut novel, Becoming Lisette. It is the first in a series of three historical novels about the French artist, Lisette Vigée. The author was kind enough to gift this reader with an e-book copy of this novel, but that in no way affected this extended review.
Becoming Lisette: A Novel
by Rebecca Glenn
Published by Zinerva Publishing, LLC, 2015
This reader loves to read historical fiction so it was a pleasure to read this story of Élisabeth Vigée, known to her family and friends as Lisette. In fact, after finishing the novel, this reader was compelled to Google her. Did she exist? Absolutement! Yes, she did and the information reflects so much of what I learned in the novel. In other words, Rebecca Glenn told the story well and makes this reader hunger for the further adventures of Lisette (there are two more novels planned according to her bio on Goodreads). In my post-novel research I also found that the cover is actually one of Lisette’s self-portraits.
In this novel, art and history are truly intertwined in the story of Lisette Vigée. Set in Paris, France during the beginning of the reign of King Louis and Marie Antoinette, a time when women were not encouraged to be anything other than a wife, Lisette wanted to be an artist just like her father, Louis Vigée. In fact, her skill with a brush is superior to his, and she is determined to follow in her father’s footsteps despite her mother Jeanne’s desire to make her into marriage material.
Unfortunately, her father dies when she is young, throwing her plans into disarray. Money is short; a fire has destroyed many of her father’s completed canvases; and when her mother remarries, her stepfather is determined that she paint only portraits for his clients. As her new guardian, he can control her painting by denying her access to pigments and materials, and he does. Up to a point, that is, because he is dealing with a most determined young woman in Lisette.
The author transports the reader to the 1770s, recalling the excesses of French nobility, the fashions, the mores, and the realities of Paris. Lisette’s spirit shines through as she fights to be more than a portrait painter, risking everything including jail to be able to paint other genres like allegories. Fortunately, along the way, she cultivates friendships with some powerful people who are willing to risk much to ensure her talent is allowed to flourish despite her stepfather Le Sèvre’s behind-the-scenes machinations.
As mentioned above, the novel is the first in a trilogy, but it does stand on its own merits. It is complete as is, yet the opening is there for continuing her fascinating story. Lisette’s character is fully fleshed out, and it is easy enough to root for her as she takes risks to be able to live the life that she desires. Glenn brings the sights and sounds of pre-Revolutionary France to life.
For those who love to read about historical figures, the history of the time, and the French culture, this is a story about an unstoppable woman, doing what she must to succeed against the odds. It is well worth the read, and I, for one, can’t wait for the next in the series.