A Tale of the Wind: A Novel of 19th-Century France

Kay Nolte Smith, Author, D. Reverand, Editor Villard Books $22 (516p) ISBN 978-0-394-57835-4
Smith's ( Elegy for a Soprano ; Country of the Heart ) clever, solidly based historical novel of 19th-century France follows the tangled professional/sexual fortunes of three women of the theater: Jeanne, a ragpicker's daughter who rises to become a playwright; her headstrong daughter Gabrielle, a singer; and her granddaughter Simone. Devoted to Jeanne is the actor Nandou, a noble dwarf who rescues her as a girl, educates and cherishes her, and parents her illegitimate daughter when Jeanne's well-born lover--the painter Vollard--deserts her. Vollard weds an heiress; their son Marc, abhorring his ``sodomite'' inclinations, forms a marriage of convenience with half-sister Gabrielle. The plot unfolds against the well-depicted political and artistic upheavals of the age, including the stormy beginnings of French romanticism with the work of Victor Hugo, who makes a cameo appearance in the novel and remains a constant presence: not only is Hugo a friend of Nandou's, but the portrayals of Nandou and Jeanne optimistically recreate Hugo's hunchback and gypsy girl of Notre Dame de Paris. Unfortunately, though Smith orients her story to lively issues--artistic boldness, feminism, homosexuality, incest, adultery (the libertine Vollard jails his wife for infidelity)--she fails to probe the psychic depths of her characters, who speak and behave like wooden puppets. Literary Guild alternate. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/29/1991
Release date: 05/01/1991
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