January 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 Isabella of Angouleme, The Seine River and Matisse’s Poets

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Isabella of Angoulême: The Tangled Queen Part 3

Erica Lainé, SilverWood Books, £9.99, ISBN: 978-1-78132-734-0

This is the third book in the trilogy by Erica Lainé on Queen Isabella of Angoulême.

The story is set in the 13th century and focuses on the determination of the Queen, then unwanted.

After the death of her husband King John, she goes back to France to claim her inheritance and reign on her territory in what is now Nouvelle-Aquitaine.

She has to face many struggles but she will do everything to keep her thrown.

Contrary to the second book, this novel gives more of an insight into Isabella’s family life and we can see two different sides to her character: the loving mother and an ambitious Queen.

Her family life is brought into focus in the first chapters. We can really imagine how important it was to her and understand her feelings. We also discover more about her new husband, Hugh X de Lusignan, and about her children, notably her son Henry III, future King of England.

With her family, the Queen now seems stronger. She looks ready to build her new empire.

She also needs support and starts to look for ways to make her empire stronger. She lays out different strategies and alliances with other foreign countries to keep her French territory...

The Seine: The River that Made Paris Elaine Sciolino ***EDITOR'S CHOICE***

W. W. Norton & Company, £16.99, ISBN: 978-0-393-60935-6

Elaine Sciolino has conceived a very original way to write about Paris, France and some of its history by choosing the river Seine as the main topic of her book.

You would never have imagined that the famous river held so much mystery, but there is a lot to discover about it.

The author even manages to make you forget about the dirty side of the river that most people would talk about when asked about the Seine river.

Creating a dreamy vision of the Seine, she reminds us how it has been used in different ways through the centuries and how it continues to be seen as something beautiful and romantic in movies and books. Useful and beautiful, the Seine seems to be a necessity which pleases tourists, residents, and workers alike.

Elaine Sciolino arrived as a correspondent in Paris in 1978 and so has had a lot of time to explore the city.

Here she shows her love for Paris which is now her home and she reveals how the Seine seduced her when she first arrived from the US.

By telling both hers and the Seine’s stories, she invites readers to discover, just like she did over time, the magical side of the river.

Through the different chapters, she explains what makes the Seine so important for Paris but also all the other cities that are crossed by its path, such as Le Havre and Rouen.

When we think of the Seine river, we often limit it to the Seine in Paris, but the Seine is more than that and has an important place in every department, every city and every village along its route.

The author goes back to its source in Burgundy and also portrays different characters who would not live the same way if the river Seine was not here.

From its source, the origin of its name, the legends around it, its history and other quaint stories, the author has contrived to deliver a book full of memories, historical intrigue and images from the past and present day.

There is also a part on April 2019’s Notre-Dame fire, and how the Seine played an essential role during this awful episode.

Matisse’s Poets: Critical Performance in the Artist’s Book Kathryn Brown,

Bloomsbury, £28.99, ISBN: 978-1-5013-5139-6

Henri Matisse is well-known for his paintings and notably his Blue Nudes, and he was a true artistic polymath with skills ranging from sculpting and drawing to painting.

Yet few people know about the several books he wrote. He tried poetry, another form of art where he made the link between his artworks and the meaning of words.

In this book, the author analyses every book and every poem by Matisse, word by word, and gives the readers the hidden meaning of the artist’s work.

She also explores the relationship between Matisse and literature and tells us more about his relationship with emblematic figures from French literature such as Baudelaire, Ronsard, or Maupassant.

We learn how Matisse was influenced by many important creative figures from the artistic and literary worlds.

Born in the north of France, it is also interesting to discover his journey and have a deeply immersive overview of all of his work, especially as books became an important way for him to express himself.

Overall, the book offers a great analysis of Matisse’s work and all the choices, both in terms of his life choices and the creative impulses, that he made as an artist.