Auguste Rodin is a household name in the art world. His stunning, full-scale sculptures can be seen at Musée Rodin in Paris. But also in this museum lie the works of Camille Claudel, Rodin’s student-turned-lover, and a brilliant sculptor in her own right. Rodin’s Lover follows Camille from the early days of her life in Villeneuve to the tumultuous obsession of her relationship with Rodin.
Camille’s heartbreaking story is brought vividly to life by Heather Webb. Passionate and headstrong, Claudel runs off the established path of womanhood in the pursuit of her art. She is at once buoyed and held back by her family; but as her fame grows, she becomes increasingly estranged from everyone that she loves. It becomes clear that Camille is suffering from a mental illness as her tirades and paranoia increase. Rodin is a conflicted character in that he refuses to part ways with his longtime paramour, Rose, and yet he is obsessed with Camille. The tug-of-war of their relationship, along with Camille’s failure to conform, leads to her downfall.
While the novel drags in some places as it minutely details Camille’s breakdown, it is still a fascinating portrait of a little-known artist. The final pages of the novel are heart-wrenching as Camille is finally committed to an asylum. Though Rodin struggled with the women in his life, his final insistence that Camille’s works be housed along with his own is a true testament to his love and respect for her. Lovers of art-based fiction as well as Belle Époque France will find Rodin’s Lover an enthralling exploration of art, talent, and madness. Recommended.