Monday, May 16, 2011

Book Review - The Masterpiece by Emile Zola


Emile Zola’s powerful novel The Masterpiece is one that strikes me to my very core; as a published author and editor, I strive to deliver the best manuscripts to my publishers and will accept any form of criticism necessary to ensure sellable work. Yet I refuse to allow my creative gift and the underlying passion to consume me. How many times have there been stories of people who gave up everything for the sake of their art? Claude, the main character of The Masterpiece, does exactly that. His obsession in painting the perfect female leads him down a path of blind fury, disdain for his wife Christine and total blindness towards his sickly son Jacques. His love for women, naïve and somewhat twisted, reflects the fact that he is in love with the “perfect” woman, one that is impossible to paint and even more impossible to conceive. When he first meets Christine on the steps leading to his studio, she is a pale and sickly being who he later discovers is a budding beauty not yet sullied by the ways of the world. He becomes obsessed with her form and figure while ultimately treating her as only bits and pieces of a body. Yet, even she does not compare to his ideal woman, for she eventually changes as she matures and bears their child while living in poverty created by her ever absent husband.

Claude, like his fellow Bohemian friends, is driven by his obsession to be creative. It will kill them in the end but it is a death worth having. They will die doing what they truly love and yet hate at the same time. For as his closest friend Sandoz tells him, his life is nothing more than endlessly perfecting his art of writing all the while realizing that it will never be perfect. And yet, it is his life. Because of his creativity later turned employment, he has money and his family is provided for. Who could ask for anything more? While some of Claude’s friends turn their creativity into a living staple with all passion squeezed out of it, he continues down his maddening path of perfecting his woman in his never perfect painting of Paris. She must be perfect, no matter the cost. And, what is that cost? For some even now, it is alcohol. For others it is drugs. Still others give up their life as the ultimate sacrifice of what they believe in. But, is it worth it? Is the price truly worth the “gift” of being creative and showing to the world what lies within the not so normal brain?

Art for art’s sake; that’s how the saying goes. And yet, it is more than that. Art for Life’s sake. Art for Sanity’s sake. Art for Not Dying’s sake. For Claude, it was for Woman’s sake, a woman that will never be his and will never appreciate him as an artist, lover and husband. She will only be his Muse, taunting him from behind the curtains, revealing only a little bit of pure white flesh or a pink nipple to lure him and keep him guessing till a very bitter end. She will love him from afar, always barely out of his reach for that is what she does. The Muse is here to play, taunt, tease and keep the creative beings burning with passion of their gift and they will always love her for it. I know I do.

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