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A novel of doomed love and infatuation set in PARIS

23rd April 2024

The Paris Muse by Louisa Treger, a novel of doomed love and infatuation set in Paris.

A novel of doomed love and infatuation set in PARIS

This is the story of Henriette Theodora Markovitch, who renamed herself Dora Maar. The novel opens in 1913 when Dora was about 7 years old, living in Buenos Aires with her parents. It moves through her early life and then focusses on the relationship with Pablo Picasso in her adult years, from 1935 onwards, when she determinedly caught his eye in the restaurant frequented by artists in Paris, the Deux Magots. Already she had found a way to attract his gaze by engaging in public self harm and this, of course, set the tenet for their relationship. This happens on page 28 and up until then we have galloped through Dora’s life to this point – perhaps a bit of a rush in a mere 28 pages or so – understanding the nature of her parent’s relationship and her drive to be an artist, a photographer as it turns out. The main thrust of the book is her on/off relationship with the great man himself.

Lurking in the background are Marie-Thérèse, the mother of his young child and Olga, his wife and mother to his older child, Paulo, all of whom continue to feature in his life. The warning signs are there in the early months, that he is not a devoted partner, but that he is a passionate and all-consuming man who juggles the women in his life to satisfy his own creative ends. Dora is in thrall to the man, avidly seeking ensnarement and, well, his affection. She tries to manage his infidelities and his often dismissive – abusive – attitude towards her, in order to maintain her position in his life – almost at any cost.

His wife, Olga, doggedly follows and accosts them, asking Pablo for support for their son, but her pleas fall on very deaf ears. As a couple, Dora and Pablo dismiss her clear ‘madness’ and yet her haunting persistence gnaws at Dora, who tries to facilitate some help for his wayward son.

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The Spanish Civil War was unfolding in Picasso’s home country and when the Germans and Spanish fascists bombed the town of Guernica, in 1937, Dora inspired him to produce his large artwork (now housed in the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid) for the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris World Fair. This felt like the peak of togetherness for the two.

Dora says of Picasso: “In calmer moments, I saw that he was apart from other men; a genius who bypassed the rules in his human relationships as completely as he did in his art.”

As the relationship becomes more toxic, the more desperate her endeavours to grab his attention become. She herself begins to lose her sense of self within his controlling orbit – “He’s a genius but he’s also a demon”.  Dora comes to realise that “conflict and destruction” are integral to Picasso’s art, and happiness is not useful for his creative talents. Their relationship becomes an emotional powder keg and her emotional sanity is on a sharp, downward trajectory. The fact she has struggled to provide him with a child proves to be a large factor in destabilising their increasingly fragile set up.

I was really interested to discover more about the life of this woman in Picasso’s life (I studied Art History at University and am embarrassed to say that I had never heard of her). This is what the author does so well, she brings the stories of lesser known women to the fore.

The story follows Dora and Pablo around France, as world events develop in the background and this offers the main story a really contextualised sense of time and place. I have enjoyed other books written by this author, who has a terrific writing style.

The relationship between the two was clearly based on enormous passion, erring into sadistic and masochistic realms (mentioned briefly). The author captures well the hedonistic and all-encompassing relationship experience, which was so clearly at the heart. Overall, this is a really engaging and informative read, about a life of highs and lows and of profound tragedy.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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Catch the author on Twitter @louisatreger and Instagram @louisatreger

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