Paris Red

At the center of Paris Red, a sharply drawn historical novel set in Paris in 1862, is a 17-year-old working girl, Victorine Meurent, who almost by happenstance draws the attention of the wealthy artist Édouard Manet and becomes his model and lover. Her heretofore dreary life changes dramatically as she plunges into the café society of painters and poets; it would be easy to portray her as an ingenue and victim, but she’s too tough for that. She draws upon reservoirs of native intelligence enhanced by a powerful sensual allure to become a much more powerful figure in Manet’s life than he anticipated. She’s known in art history as the model for his most famous portrait, “Olympia,” but as drawn here she is also his muse and as such the person who encouraged him to paint such a controversial and even scandalous work. Maureen Gibbon tells this fascinating tale of the merger of art and eroticism with a muscular prose that seems perfectly suited to her subject matter.