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March 2020 book reviews

We read recent releases with a link to France. To be fair, each gets 20 minutes’ reading time. This month, we will look at The Killing of the Iron Twelve, The Private World of Edouard Vuillard, and City of Dark

Venus Betrayed: The Private World of Edouard Vuillard

Julia Frey, Reaktion Books, £39.95, ISBN: 978-1-78914-160-3


Jean-Édouard Vuillard was a French painter from the Bourgogne region, whose influences are taken from the Nabi, the impressionism and the post-Impressionism movement.

Here, Julia Frey has not just written a simple biography of the artist but rather a full analysis of his life and work.

Each chapter has a specific theme which gathers several paintings and artworks of Vuillard while the author explains his life journey.

It is also very well illustrated so the reader is easily caught up in the story and can also analyse the work with the author.

From men, women, dreams, and illness, this book goes through every different aspect of the life of an artist seen as someone mysterious who was never able to take a decision.

He was well surrounded throughout his whole life by a group of friends and especially women. His relationship with women is quite special and probably the most important, and certainly most intensely considered angle in the book.

Despite having many relationships, he never got married and the main woman of his life remained his mother.  

This book is essential if you want to learn more about the artist but it is also a great read for anyone interested in the arts, even for readers who do not know about the painter.

It introduces us to the inner workings of this real person, Jean-Édouard Vuillard, who also happened to be a great painter and decorator.

His artistic work is rich and varied and has so many influences that everyone can appreciate it.

The Killing of the Iron Twelve

Hedley Malloch, Pen & Sword, £19.99, ISBN: 978-1526718570

Some readers might think this is just another story on war, but The Killing of the Iron Twelve goes further and fully describes the lives of 12 soldiers who died in the North of France in 1915.

Among them, five were English, six were Irish and one was French.

The soldiers had become trapped behind enemy lines in the Nord and Aisne departments, in late 1914.

They were taken in, hidden, sheltered and helped by local French families at their risk.

But later they were betrayed and sentenced to death, along with one French citizen who had helped them in the village of Iron near Guise.

They are now buried in the municipal cemetery in Guise itself.

The story does not only honour the memory of these soldiers but it is remarkable for its depth of analysis and use of different national and cultural perspectives, including of the German army.

The author has worked on all of the aspects of the lives of the French families and the soldiers, at the time.

He has done a lot of research and all the details are given to make the reader feel like he is part of the story.


City of Dark

Claire Dickinson, Independently published, £12.63, ISBN: 978-1072133216

After the murder of the French Prime Minister, the destiny of a police officer and a student in Paris is about to change.

Khalid Sadiqi is in charge of finding who assassinated the politician in hospital.

However, the investigation is more complicated than he thinks and he will have to go all the way to find out what really happened that night.

How can a man with a nurse and 10 guards watching him die? Is it a political assassination, is it terrorism? Mr Sadiqi, who is part of the counter-terror squad, has to investigate everything.

His inquiry centres on the Paris catacombs, which hide many secrets. Mr Sadiqi needs a specialist and this is how he meets Antonia Corrigan, known as Toni, a student who knows Paris and its catacombs well.

Her knowledge will be a great help for the investigation which is traced throughout the entire book.

This novel is also a good way to discover more about the Paris catacombs, which are partly open to visitors but very rarely talked about.

It also shows another side of Paris, certainly less romantic and more mysterious and is very well researched, especially with regards to the history of the city.

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