Loving Modigliani: The Afterlife of Jeanne Hébuterne

Art and love both complete us and make us incredibly vulnerable, so reveals Linda Lappin’s tender, excellent novel Loving Modigliani: The Afterlife of Jeanne Hébuterne.

Moving deftly between the intriguing first-person account of the ghost of Jeanne Hébuterne, an artist and the common-law wife of Amedeo Modigliani who jumps out of a window two days after he dies, the diary she leaves behind, and the tale of an art scholar, this book captivates.

Part romance, part mystery, Lappin’s use of the supernatural creates an effective window into the life of both of these artists as well as sparking curiosity about the painter Manuel Ortiz de Zárate.  An art student in the 1980’s who is researching Ortiz stumbles upon so much more. Which describes perfectly what this book does: it uses its unconventional mode of storytelling to explore the deeper issues of life.

Lappin’s novel succeeds in “resurrecting” the artist Hébuterne through imagining her afterlife.

Looking at the paintings Hébuterne left behind, it is obvious that she and Modigliani influenced one another’s work. That there is this lost painting, a work of the two of them, in this novel, means there is, besides the biological daughter, another child of the two: the painting.

If you’ve ever been ill advisedly in love or if you have a deep connection with art, you will understand why it seems impossible for Hébuterne to leave Modigliani and yet you will want to warn her away during her diary entries before it’s too late. Alas, since we open on her after her death, we know it is too late. This, too, keeps us reading.

Lovingly told with evocative detail, it is difficult to avoid spoilers for this exquisite novel, so I will just add that it’s a fascinating, fast-paced, deeply felt novel.

Linda is one of the four of us who will be talking about our art-in-fiction books on May 8. Take a look at that post and sign up if you haven’t yet. It promises to be a great session. I’m looking forward to “meeting” these writers I’ve been emailing with all of this time. I hope to see you there!