Daisy Whitney tells the fantastically playful story of a depressed Parisian artist who finds inspiration when the subject of a famous painting comes alive.
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Together they must heal the world’s sick art and free Clio. To do that, they’ll have to go up against Pierre-Auguste Renoir himself – Renoir’s ghost has inhabited the body of a local street artist, determined to protect his legacy at all costs. The lovers’ struggle will demand a greater sacrifice than they can imagine.Skip to next paragraph
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Having never been to France or visited the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay, I reveled in Whitney’s command of her subject. A Brown University art history graduate, Whitney clearly has a passion for Paris. Her descriptions of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Giverny, Montmartre, and the Marais are practically caresses.
Unfortunately for readers with empty stomachs, she’s also well versed in French pastry. Whitney concocts a delectable buffet of apricot tart, cinnamon rugelach, five-berry crumble, macarons, and île flottante (meringue afloat in a sea of caramel custard).
I was pleased that the litany of art references never felt like name-dropping. Julien and Clio interact with Manet’s "Olympia," Van Gogh’s "Portrait of Dr. Gachet" and "Starry Night" (naturally), Toulouse-Lautrec’s "Dancing at the Moulin Rouge," and more. We hear of Renoir’s "The Swing and Dance" at Bougival, Monet’s Rouen cathedrals and Japanese bridges. They wander through Turner, Goya, Morisot, and Jackson Pollock. Julien even stops by Edward Hopper’s "Nighthawks" for a milkshake.
Whitney has a wicked sense of humor – she decides that Pollock was painting expired food in his refrigerator and that the Mona Lisa is smirking at a dirty joke. Just be willing to take her portrayal of Renoir with a grain of salt. Fans might rankle at the concept of a jealous elitist who returns as a body-possessing ghost.
Given the pastry parade, I found myself likening the book to a tray of profiteroles. It was beautiful, sweet, a bit fluffy, and irresistible to devotees, but with some unexpected hollow spots. The Parisian teens use a jarring amount of American slang: "mad skills," "hits the spot," "really dig," "goes out on a limb," using “she was all like” instead of “she said.” Julien even orders French fries, which in France, of course, are just "frites" or "pommes frites" (fried potatoes). I love to immerse myself in a novel’s culture and this proved an annoying distraction.
In addition, Clio behaves anachronistically for a 19th-century girl, kissing Julien, using air quotes, and knowing what “clubbing” is without needing to ask. Yet Whitney tries to emphasize that their “cultural touchstones” are different, giving Clio a blank look when Julien mentions Spider-Man. It’s another weak point in an otherwise charming novel.
If you appreciate art history, Paris, or French pastry (and is there really anyone who doesn't?), you’ll enjoy "Starry Nights." Turn on some Eartha Kitt, keep an art history book close by, and read with a warm chocolate croissant.