Written by Susan Vreeland
Published by Viking Books
Review by Lois Danielson
Susan Vreeland’s latest art-inspired novel, The Forest Lover, is about the Canadian artist Emily Carr, who traveled through the Canadian woods in the early 20th century to find and paint artifacts from the native people before they disappeared. Carr’s chosen subject for her painting was the British Columbian wilderness and in Vreeland’s work we see that Carr held much appreciation and respect for the native people who lived there. Carr’s journey through the Pacific Northwest is full of adventure and we learn more from Vreeland about the struggles and joys of being an artist.
Fans of Vreeland’s The Passion of Artemesia will likely enjoy Vreeland’s newest venture into telling the story of a strong woman painter who is driven to create and overcomes great obstacles in a time when women were not considered artists. Though Carr in The Forest Lover is an entirely different species than Artemesia. A product of Victorian-era tradition, Carr defies tradition and follows her own sense of adventure into the wilderness of British Columbia. As a woman, Carr suffers prejudice and belittling, but still she has spirit and gumption and continues to do what she is driven to do, capture the essence of the native people and a culture that was disappearing because of western influences.
As always, Vreeland captures the essence of artists and how they create their visions. Vreeland shows how Carr’s study in France during the time of Monet and Van Gogh helped to shape her later work, and Vreeland’s descriptions of the scenes and colors of Carr’s paintings make it seem as if you are looking at the paintings themselves. Vreeland’s fans of her previous novels will find everything they have come to love from Vreeland’s prose in The Forest Lover—amazing descriptions about art and creating art and a fascinating study of an artist worth discovering.
Fans of Vreeland will also enjoy knowing that Vreeland has published a book of short stories, also centered around art and artists, called Life Studies. There are stories based on the lives of artists such as Van Gogh, Cezanne, Manet, Renoir. The stories in the second half of the book are more contemporary and written about ordinary people who are profoundly affected by art. Despite the disconnectedness between the two different types of stories found in this collection, each story has intimate descriptions, emotional depth, and commentary on the power of great art, and that is what we read Susan Vreeland for.
Lois Danielson is a professor of history and part-time historical novelist. She is currently working on a novel set during World War II. She lives in Spokane, Washington with her husband, two daughters, and a Basset Hound named Fred.