The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M.J. Rose
It's 1894 and twenty-five year old Sandrine Salome has just arrived at her grandmother's house in Paris, fleeing an abusive husband in New York who she believes also had a hand in her father's death.
Sandrine comes off a bit scared and intimidated at first, bemoaning the death of her father and her loveless marriage, though I do applaud her for escaping from such an uncomfortable situation. Once she's settled in Paris however, she discards her married surname, reassumes her maiden name of Sandrine Verlaine, and embarks on an empowering journey to a whole new life and attitude.
The Verlaine family history abounds with tales about the ghost of La Lune, the sixteenth-century courtesan that inhabits the female members of their family in an attempt to relive her lost passions, eventually driving them mad in the process. And Sandrine is discovering that her deep love for the arts is now exhibiting itself in a longing for painting that she didn't have previously. Even now, as Sandrine is becoming a very different person, with several new talents and traits she didn't previously possess, she refuses to acknowledge what might be happening to her, that La Lune may be attempting to possess her. And it is her close mindedness that caused me to dislike her character so much. To be fair, close mindedness is one of my biggest pet peeves. But for that reason, I never really cared for Sandrine all that much and probably can't give this book the full accolades it deserves.
I'm not sure if it was the author's intention for the reader to strongly dislike the main character, or if it was just me and my strong aversion to her close-mindedness, but I felt as strongly about her as I did Amy Dunne in Gone Girl, so I couldn't really connect to her. I actually felt sorry for her love interest, Julien, and was hoping he'd be smart enough to get away from her.
The writing style was flowery and descriptive, almost exceedingly so at times, and while I enjoyed the descriptions of Paris, the Louvre, and the amazing artwork of the time, there were scenes when it felt a bit unnecessary and over the top. This book took me 11 days to read—more than twice as long as it normally takes me to read other book of this length—and I'm sure the verbose language was a strong factor in this.
While I found the first half of this book a bit slow, things picked up about halfway through, and from that point, events got a bit more interesting for both Sandrine and Julien. I still didn't care for Sandrine however as she went about making up silly excuses in her head for what was happening to her, refusing to acknowledge the facts that were right in front of her. She even went so far as to let her grandmother be committed to a sanitarium when she tried to help her.
Up to this point, my review has focused mainly on the negatives, though I have to say that with regards to the tempo of the book, the second half redeemed it for me. And even several days after I'd finished reading, I found certain key scenes replaying in my mind. I fondly recalled the charming streets of 1894 Paris, the amazing art galleries, the bell tower in which La Lune, and later Sandrine, painted... it was the beauty of Belle Epoque Paris and the way in which the author so vividly painted these locations in the reader's mind that stuck with me. I can honestly say that I truly felt like I was taking in all the glory of Paris right alongside Sandrine as the imagery was so vividly real.
And that is why, despite my earlier criticisms about the main character, I really can't give this book any less than 6 stars (or 3 on Goodreads/Amazon) because it definitely made it over the halfway hump with its strong, haunting sense of location.
Thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for providing me with a copy of this e-book in exchange for an honest review.