The Tenants of the Hôtel Biron

Written by Laura Marello
Review by Lucy Bertoldi

Through a fictitious collection of manuscripts and letters, we learn of the famous artists that lived in Paris’s Hôtel Biron during the end of the 19th century. American photographer Eduard Steichen is the guiding voice of the novel, bringing together the artists as they speak through their own writings. Marello brilliantly brings out the artists’ tribulations, reflections, conflicts, and, for some, a heart-rending romance.

In this delectably written work, we feel Camille Claudel’s restless and unsatisfying love for Rodin, along with the burning energy that consumed the particular artists of the time: Rousseau, Matisse, Picasso, Rilke, and others. Not only do we get a feeling for what went through the minds of these great names, but we also get a sense of how they got to where they were, through retrospective recounting of marking points in their lives. For instance, the possibility that the death of Rodin’s sister would forever determine his inability to fulfill meaningful and lasting relationships with women becomes very real. The author challenges us to envision the minds and circumstances of this predominantly misunderstood clan in the imminence of World War I.

Stories of artists painted through manuscripts that come to life, dreamy yet plausible, The Tenants of the Hôtel Biron is a true delight for lovers of the arts, history and literature alike. It almost feels like I got to know the artists personally. Excellent!