2 out of 4 stars
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René Bernard, by John MacDougall, is a work of historical fiction. The author has woven an intricate tale about the life of a talented artist. In addition to the fictional story, the book features several of the author’s paintings.
This story takes place in 1864, in the small town of Etang de Thau, France. René was the third child of an oyster-cultivating family. Sons guaranteed that the family business would continue to prosper into the future. Sadly, after a debilitating sickness, the young René developed heart problems. As a result, he could not fulfill his father’s wishes of perpetuating the family tradition of oyster cultivation. His older sister, Marie, assumed responsibility for René and encouraged him to draw and paint. Under her tutelage, René began to paint. He attended the Academy of Roland Guertau where he developed his particular painting style. Upon completion of his studies, he moved to Paris where he continued his life’s work.
The book is told from the third person omniscient point of view. Readers learn about the thoughts and emotions of all the characters, including a lion. This helps to create a mood of lighthearted fantasy.
The writing style is interesting but unfocused. The author devotes more time to peripheral details than to developing the story line around René. We hear about Marie’s courtship and marriage to Philippe. Readers can peruse a complete register of the wedding gifts. Later, we savor the buffet served at the reception. Following this, we encounter a report of the architectural features of the newlywed’s new home. All these lengthy descriptions affect the pacing of the story.
This book needs more editing. Grammar and spelling errors appear frequently and slow down the reading of the text. The name of one of the characters changes, and ‘René’ is occasionally misspelled. The secondary characters are more developed than the story about René. I was hoping for more information about René’s development as an artist.
I rate this book 2 out of 4 stars. The slow pacing and frequent errors impeded the reading flow. The author has a unique talent for writing in-depth descriptions. Had there been more descriptions about René, I would gladly raise the rating.
Readers who want to learn about the life and customs of France in the 19th century would enjoy this book. They would find the descriptions of oyster cultivation, family life, food, clothing, and weddings and other celebrations intriguing and informative.
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