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Feb 6, 2014

I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira (A Novel of Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt)

Touching, evocative and brilliant

I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira (A Novel of Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt)
Viking Penguin February 2014
Hardcover 352 pages
Received a gorgeous hardcover from the publisher in exchange for this thoroughly honest review
Burton Book Review Rating: 5 big stars!

A novel of Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas’s great romance from the New York Times bestselling author of My Name Is Mary Sutter
The young Mary Cassatt never thought moving to Paris after the Civil War to be an artist was going to be easy, but when, after a decade of work, her submission to the Paris Salon is rejected, Mary’s fierce determination wavers. Her father is begging her to return to Philadelphia to find a husband before it is too late, her sister Lydia is falling mysteriously ill, and worse, Mary is beginning to doubt herself. Then one evening a friend introduces her to Edgar Degas and her life changes forever. Years later she will learn that he had begged for the introduction, but in that moment their meeting seems a miracle. So begins the defining period of her life and the most tempestuous of relationships.

In I Always Loved You, Robin Oliveira brilliantly re-creates the irresistible world of Belle Époque Paris, writing with grace and uncommon insight into the passion and foibles of the human heart.

(Click for my review of Robin Oliveira's first novel, My Name is Mary Sutter)

For readers who enjoy the style of Kelly O'Connor McNees (The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott) or Kathleen Grissom (The Kitchen House), or if you enjoyed Stephanie Cowell's Claude and Camille, this second novel by Robin Oliveira delivers a powerful punch with her beautiful prose. It's not so much the story in itself, it's the magnificent flow of words that ecompasses so much. I absolutely loved Robin Oliveira's first novel, and again here I noticed right away the style of writing- how Oliveira effortlessly portrays images, feelings and undertones of despair that captures what Belle Epoque Paris may have been all about in the artist's world. She's got me a believer of the relationship between Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt (I'm not going to spoil anything, you'll simply have to read it) and there is nothing in the entire novel I would have changed.

It is a story that evolves around the painters residing in Paris at the time, and one that is depressive in nature. If you can't embrace either of these two themes I can understand some readers being turned off by the tones of the book. If you have experienced loss, or subject to melancholy moods and can empathize with struggles of the creative person than I don't see any reason why you shouldn't adore this story of the struggles and loves of Mary and Edgar. And yet, it is so much more, as it includes their circle of friends and thus becomes a panoramic view of the ever-changing needs of society. It doesn't bounce between all the characters, but we do have a vivid look into Edouard Manet's and Berthe Morisot's lives along with the secondary characters (including Mary's family) who completely fill out this evocative and emotive novel of the late 1800's in Paris.

Looking at my status updates on Goodreads:
"Oh the prose!!!! 'You uttered them and they evanesced, but if you wrote them, they remained, though whether the written word was any more truthful than the spoken was a mystery to her.'"

and a touching scene (you had to be there!)
"Thank you, Monsieur Degas."
"Oh no. Not anymore. I am Edgar." Best scene ever

I simply loved the whole thing - the story and the writing, and will gladly read anything by Robin Oliveira for the rest of my life. I have a friend who wants to read this too, and my first thought is I need to give this to her, but I just can't let it go. I am going to have to read it again. And only maybe then can I share the joy and the heartbreak of the story. For now, it's just too personal, and it's mine to keep. Thank you to Robin Oliveira for touching my heart and putting together sentences the way that you do. Brava!