cover image The Flames

The Flames

Sophie Haydock. Overlook, $28 (464p) ISBN 978-1-4197-6631-2

Haydock’s stunning debut captures the ecstatic shock of erotic art during the bohemian period of the Vienna Secession, dialing in on the brief life of Egon Schiele (1890–1918) and the four women who influenced the painter. They are his voyeuristic neighbors, sisters Adele and Edith Harms; his possessive younger sister, Gertrude; and the model Vally Neuzil, who was his lover and muse. Sections devoted to each woman explore the jealousy, guilt, and grief that swirl around their relationships with the artist. Adele takes to spying on Egon from across the street, deluded by the belief that they’ll marry, and survives a bout of the flu; Gertrude recounts the Schieles’ difficult childhoods with their abusive, syphilitic stationmaster father; Edith vies for Egon’s attention, which leads to a tumultuous romance; and Vally remains independent. After Vally and Egon shelter a girl who’s being abused by her father, the father presses charges of kidnapping and corrupting a minor (Egon is also charged with pornography). By the end, not all of the characters escape WWI or the Spanish flu pandemic, and Haydock’s superb research captures the era’s rich atmosphere. This assured effort will leave readers eager to see more from Haydock. Agent: Juliet Mushens, Mushens Entertainment. (Mar.)