Starry Nights by Daisy Whitney
Bloomsbury, Expected Release Date: September 3, 2013
*ARC provided by the publisher at ALA - Thank You!*
Daisy Whitney tries her hand at magical realism in her fourth novel, Starry Nights.
Meet Julien, a Parisian teen who spends his days giving tours at the Musee d'Orsay. He loves art - always has - and his life changes when the subjects of the paintings start to leave their canvases and come to life at night. With the help of some friends old and new, Julien discovers the art is reacting to Clio, a real girl who Renoir cursed and trapped in a painting. As Julien and Clio fall in love while the famous paintings of the world start to fade, the young pair must choose between the greatest loves of their life: the art, or each other?
The strongest point of this novel was the descriptions of the art and art history. As someone who loves the Impressionist era almost as much as Julien, I appreciated this, and readers can trust that Whitney knows what she's talking about here: she got her degree in art history from Brown University.
Yet for a relatively short book, there's a lot going on. While all the pieces were there for me (I love art, Europe, museums, and Whitney's previous works), for me this story didn't quite hit the spot. Not only is art coming to life, but there's the mystery of Clio's painting, questions of a forger, elements of Julien's school life, his friends, and a whole other slew of things I don't want to spoil on top of a love story that was very, very fast. I also didn't feel like I knew some of these characters or places very well. It took me a while to realize Julien is French, if I'm honest, and though there was a lot of talk of French food, I never felt like I got a strong sense of Paris.
One aspect that strikes me the most about this book is how it's being pitched as magical realism when, to me, this is much more in line with the fantasy genre. In my reading experience, magical realism is when one aspect of reality is changed, often without explanation. However, here there were a lot of rules. Julien has a gift and he can't explain where it comes from, sure, but then there was a whole mythology that made it all feel more like a fantasy or perhaps supernatural.
If you are looking for a quick read with quirky characters, nights at museums, love, and an edge of mystery and mythology, then Starry Nights is probably a book you will really enjoy. The novel is very clearly a love letter to art, especially the Impressionists, and that comes through with every page. I liked this book enough for a fast one-time read, and if it sounds interesting to you, I'd say check to see if your library has a copy you can borrow should the mood strike.
Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.