Wednesday, August 12, 2015

THE DREAM LOVER by Elizabeth Berg

George Sand, pen name of French writer Aurore Dupin, led quite an avant garde life.  Somehow, though, this book just makes her life seem like one failed relationship after another, including her embattled relationship with her daughter.  I waded through 80% of this book before finally getting to the 9-year relationship that I was most interested in, only to have it be glossed over in a few pages.  Sometimes I think historical fiction authors focus so much on their research that they neglect their obligation to engage the reader.  George Sand strikes me as an unconventional woman, dressing in men’s clothing in order to get cheaper opera tickets and then adopting that style of dress as her regular attire.  I have never read any of George Sand’s work, and I had hoped that this novel would give me a glimpse of what she had produced, but her novels seemed to be primarily autobiographical, and nothing in their descriptions here seemed worthy of greatness.  Sand knew quite a few other great artists, writers, and composers of the time, including Flaubert, Balzac, Delacroix, Victor Hugo, Chopin, and Liszt, and I would have expected Berg to give us at least an introduction to their works as well.  However, I had the feeling that Berg assumed that all her readers were already familiar with what these artists had accomplished and chose to mention only a very few such oeuvres.  As for George Sand’s lovers, I could barely keep them straight.  Berg employs the ever-popular dual timeline, which seems completely unnecessary here, until the two narratives converge and the novel mercifully ends.  As we approach the conclusion, Berg suggests that Sand’s husband is not her daughter Solange’s biological father, but by this time I could recall nothing about the man who was possibly the real father.  Lastly, I do not understand the title.  The only dream that I can recall was Sand’s dream of her own personal deity, Corambe, and I certainly don’t think George Sand loved dreams or was the lover anyone dreamed of, nor did she have any such lovers, and I never got the impression that Sand was any artist’s muse or inspiration.  I kept expecting the author to reveal the source of the title at some point, but if there was such a revelation, I missed it.  Again, maybe the author took too much for granted with regard to her readers’ knowledge of the subject matter.  Prior to reading this novel, I had a 50-50 impression of Berg, having loved The Art of Mending but having barely tolerated We Are All Welcome Here.  This novel tips the scales toward the negative, so that I hope my book club doesn’t choose any more of her stuff.  For a much better novel about a fascinating female writer with lots of famous friends, read Vanessa and Her Sister instead.

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