Monday, February 25, 2013

Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland

Happy Birthday Renoir! (February 25, 1841-December 3, 1919)

Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland is a historical fiction telling about Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s life during the time he created the famous painting by the same name as the book.  Renoir wasn’t some stuffy old guy we see in art books. This book brought him to life as a lively and passionate forty-year old man. His friends and models became real. I was fascinated that his friend and artist, Caillebotte, sat patiently in what turned out to be a very uncomfortable pose. I discovered that the son and daughter of the restaurant owners are in the painting as well as a journalist, an actress, and even Renoir’s future wife. I was amazed at what a huge undertaking it really was to create this masterpiece. And I was intrigued at how quickly he painted it, how quickly he had to paint. I loved getting lost in the time and Paris, and I loved the descriptive writing in this book.


I found this book in the bargain bin at the library. Finding a great bargain can be so exciting.  Every once in awhile my mom will find some little treasure at a yard sale or thrift store and it’ll just make her day.  It doesn’t have to be a Matisse or some other undiscovered masterpiece that somehow slipped by the sellers.  It can be something small like a wine glass that matches her others at home. 

Well, I know just how she feels.

As long books are not dirty or smelly I’m up for reading used books, which is why I was looking over the 25-cent bin at the little library store when something caught my eye. Between some old and ratty books a flash of orange drew me in for a closer look. I pulled out The Luncheon of the Boating Party, a worn paperback by Susan Vreeland.  Immediately my heart skipped a beat as I saw the Renoir’s famous painting on the front cover—elegant groups of people seated outside a restaurant eating and socializing on a warm summer day. It’s one of those paintings that you could just get lost in.

Flipping the book open I saw that Ginny, the previous owner had written her name in the front cover. Nothing wrong with that. I’m not a book prude. I actually like reading inscriptions wishing people a Happy Birthday or Merry Christmas.  It’s a celebration not only of the special day, but a celebration of reading. What could be better than the gift of a book?

But then I flipped through the pages and found that Ginny had left her mark all over the place.  Ginny, with her shaky hand, had indiscriminately underlined sentences. She wasn’t neat either. It’s almost like she crossed through some lines. And she wasn’t done yet.  She also wrote notes and circled words and threw in a question mark and stars here and there. She violated the book!. Remember, this is a novel, not a workbook. Clearly there was no respect for this book. Obviously she considered it disposable, something to be used for her report or whatever she was doing, then tossed aside like a squeezed lemon. Her disregard urged me to give the book a new lease on life. I took it home and read it—and loved it!

If you liked this book, you may also enjoy Frida by Barbara Mujica, I Am Madame X by Gioia Diliberto, and The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan. 

Happy Reading,

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  1. Thank you for this review. I love to loose myself in books! Can't wait to read it.

  2. I would love to read that book. The picture has always facinated me. Thank you

  3. I also loved this book. I loved "joining" in on the luncheon and felt I was part of Renoir's painting in my own way. It made me realize how much work goes into painting groups of people.