Monday, February 20, 2012

Book Review: The Last Nude by Ellis Avery

The Last Nude is a complex story splashed across the lifespan of painter Tamara de Lempicka. I didn’t know much about de Lempicka when I started reading the book and had only vague ideas of what it was like to live in Paris during the Jazz Age. Ellis Avery did a great job of making the city and the era come alive. The wealth and decadence of the age along with the underlying tensions of turbulent political winds mingle with the passions of Tamara and her model Rafaela.

Rafaela is beautifully captured as the love interest of Tamara de Lempicka. Little is known of the model’s life, leaving Avery free to create her background. I could easily believe that Rafaela was a half Catholic, half Jewish runaway determined to escape an arranged marriage.

Tamara also comes alive on the page, but the result isn’t pleasant. After looking at a few short biographies of Tamara de Lempicka, it is clear that in life she was known to be rather disagreeable. She certainly leaves much to be desired as a protagonist. Tamara is arrogant, proud, stubborn, and unscrupulous. Rafaela is no match for her. The unequal relationship between the women and Tamara’s willingness to do anything for the sake of her art left me cold.

Overall the book is a tantalizing look at an era that was soon to be lost to the Great Depression and World War II. It is worth the read for the glimpse it gives us at a world few can remember. The characters are complicated, well developed, and interesting. Avery does a nice mix of historical and fictional, glitter and grit, sensual and harsh. Every page offered something new to the reader.

Ellis Avery has created a memorable work that I am happy to recommend She does a credible job of explaining the reasons behind Tamara de Lempika’s more egregious acts. Just remember there is a huge gap between understanding and liking de Lempika, and don’t come to the work expecting to find a protagonist the average reader would identify with.

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