Susan Vreeland - The Forest Lover

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Vreeland's The Forest Lover: Out of the depths, comes insight and art

Mar 15, 2004
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Evocative, interesting story about the soul and art.

Cons:It drags in spots, and conversely, also skips over vast sections that begged for more.

The Bottom Line: Interesting, intellegent story that skips stereotypes and delves into an unusual setting, culture and heroine.


Following up her novel, The Passion of Artemisia, Vreeland again goes into the world of women and art in her latest release. This time instead of Baroque Italy and England, the setting is much closer in time and place, the British Columbia of the turn of the century.

Emily Carr has always known that she was unusual, with her hunger for the wild forests of Canada and the native peoples that still manage to live on the edges of them. And she struggles to capture that world in her watercolours, when she can spare the time from teaching the society matrons that she depends on for making her living. Worst yet, none of her four sisters are really supportive of Emily's passion for painting, from the critical, prim Dede, nor Alice, the one who is the most sympathetic.

Treated as a freakish oddity by her family, and the polite, Christian society of Victoria, Emily finds herself wandering farther and farther into the deep woods, capturing as best she can what she sees, but it seems that the rest of the world cannot. Then Emily finds herself the person who can help her ? Sophie Frank, an Indian woman who weaves baskets, mourn her dead children, and the two form a unique friendship. There is also Claude, the French fur trapper that just might have the secret of love that Emily both wants and fears. And finally, the most tragic of them all, Harold Cook, a child who is witness to atrocity, and only Emily can communicate at all with.

Given the amount of plot and characterization that is in this book, I was surprised by the fact that it was such an enjoyable and quick read that was packed into a book of little more than three hundred pages. Vreeland?s prose is colourful, and bit overblown in spots; too, some readers that are unfamiliar with art might find some of the terminology bewildering, but that is more than compensated for by the setting and characters.

What really made the novel stand out for me was Vreeland's sympathetic and empathic view and portrayal of the Indians. She doesn't put coy stereotypes into their mouths, nor does she try to make them into noble savages either -- these are people, with all of the complexes that come with it, and the author took her time and skills to make them worth learning more about.

For those who like vivid writing about women, artists, the clash of Western and traditional cultures, this is a novel to seek out. What surprised me the most was discovering that Emily Carr herself was an actual artist who did a great deal to preserve Native American Coastal culture before it was swept away by the zeal and bigotry of Christian missionaries. Vreeland uses some of Carr?s paintings to illustrate the book, but alas, they are in black and white, and seem rather insipid compared to what they could have been in colour.

The Forest Lover
Susan Vreeland
Viking Press
ISBN: 0670032670


Recommend this product? Yes


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