Review by Eric Weinblatt
In 1937, Europe is recovering from the Great War, peace is viable but tensions are high, and Lisette Roux relocates to Roussillon with her recent husband, André, to take care of his ill father Pascal. This is mildly unsettling for Lisette, as a town without a gallery is no place for her. She instead wishes the two of them could remain in Paris forever. Fortunately, Pascal takes quickly to Lisette and welcomes her to Roussillon with open arms that in turn aid in opening her mind. This begins with the mutual love of art, culture, and of course André. As time progresses, Lisette learns to weather harsh mistrals of winter and begins to think of Roussillon as home.
Quickly following the demise of Pascal, however, André is also taken from Lisette as he is recruited along with his life-long friend, Maxime, to battle to German army. With the Second World War on the rise, everything Lisette loves about France is placed in peril, which includes André, Maxime, and beautiful paintings, which she considers a staple of French society and culture. As the danger in Roussillon increases, Lisette is entrusted with the paintings she holds in highest esteem; that is, until they go missing. As Maxime and André face the perils of the Nazi invasion on the front lines, Lisette must do the same at home by breaking the social conventions of the town to keep herself and the other women informed of the war while she meticulously seeks out her lost treasures.
To illustrate this captivating conflict, Susan Vreeland has broken the barriers of time and space with her prose. Narrating in beautiful “picture words,” Vreeland successfully relocates her readers to Roussillon, a town that at first seems so backwards the natives greet each other by saying adieu. This, along with the imagery found in most every paragraph of Lisette’s List create the chaotic, and yet charming setting for Lisette’s journey that readers will find above all else, rather vivid.
Much like the artists she writes about, Susan Vreeland puts together things that don’t exist together in real life, and does so with style and heart. Her entire cast of characters are thoroughly rendered. Regardless if they are fictional characters or historical figures from the 1870's and 80's as well as 1930’s and 40’s, they are undoubtedly human, which causes the line of fiction to be blurred. As Susan’s fictional character Maxime says in the book, “A great painting encourages us to feel some connection with the truth”, so too does Lisette’s List. Vreeland flirts vivaciously with truth and fiction, and allows her fiction to become a new form of truth.
Above all, Lisette’s List is an emotionally evocative and thoroughly touching piece of art. As Maxime so delicately puts it, “Art alone can’t tell the whole story. We need words to explain… It requires context to be understood fully”. Susan Vreeland is gifted with this very language and context, and fortunately for her readers, she is willing to share her gifts. Her prose flows flawlessly from beginning to end, causing as much emotional unrest with each page turn as the impending mistrals of Roussillon. Fans of historical fiction, art, and spectacular narratives will rejoice as they make their way through the trials and tribulations of Lisette’s List, and may soon be making lists of their own. As a new fan, this reviewer has done just that:
1. Read Lisette’s List once more, and share its beauty with the world.
Lisette’s List is published by Random House and can be purchased from Amazon.com
Susan Vreeland is the author of nine works to date, including Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Luncheon of the Boating Party, and Clara and Mr. Tiffany. You can find more about her and her work here.