Leonora in the Morning Light

Written by Michaela Carter
Review by Kate Braithwaite

Set in France during WW2, Leonora in the Morning Light is a novel about Leonora Carrington and Max Ernst, two important figures in the surrealist art movement.

Leonora is only twenty years old when she meets Max Ernst, many years her senior, and married. Despite this, their love affair blossoms, and Leonora holds her own in a vibrant group of famous artists and photographers including Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, Lee Miller and Man Ray. But war changes everything, and when the couple are separated, each must find their own way to survive and escape Europe.

Carter structures her novel effectively, alternating between chapters from Leonora’s perspective as her relationship with Ernst and her artwork develops in 1937 and 1938, even as the specter of Nazism threatens to upend their hedonistic Parisian lifestyle; and Max Ernst just two years later, barely surviving and under threat of his life as a German Jew in France. Peggy Guggenheim is a third central character, introduced later, who becomes pivotal to both Leonora and Max’s survival.

While not required, it may help readers to have some knowledge of the artists featured in the story. The temptation to google the artworks created and photographs taken during the story is overwhelming, but also adds to the whole reading experience. Beautifully written, this is not a light read, but a rich exploration of a love affair between two incredibly talented individuals during one of the most challenging periods of history. Leonora’s struggles with her mental health are sensitively and believably explored. Max’s arrests and the privation he experiences trying to flee France and find Leonora are vividly evoked. Readers who enjoy biographical fiction, particularly those that highlight talented and exceptional women, will relish this one.