If social media had been around when young Pablo Picasso had been on the scene in Paris, his Facebook status undoubtedly would have read: “It’s complicated.”
In Anne Girard’s “Madame Picasso” (Harlequin MIRA, $14.95) the last century’s greatest painter is depicted as a sophisticated philanderer and has already established himself as a popular contemporary artist.
The female protagonist, Eva Gouel, has a past and lifestyle that are the direct opposite of Picasso’s. She runs away from her well-meaning Polish family who only want the best for her — a pre-arranged marriage with a man who can take care of her for the rest of her life.
Eva resists her parents’ demands with all her might. After all, what’s love got to do with it? She wants to live her life as an independent woman and experience what life has to offer in new surroundings and in an era with minimal boundaries.
In an act of rebellion against her parents, but unbeknownst to them, Eva migrates to Paris. With the assistance of her roommate, Sylvette, she secures a position as a seamstress/designer at the famous Moulin Rouge nightclub.
After a rocky start with her new employer, Eva becomes known for her ability to come to the rescue for actors who experience wardrobe malfunctions that often are a part of the everyday scenario. Her skills are appreciated and are in demand as she becomes a life saver in the eyes of the actors and theater owner.
During an evening performance at the Moulin Rouge, Picasso notices Eva from his seat in the audience. He focuses his eyes on her as a prize. At a chance meeting later, he forcibly pulls Eva into his world by doing the unthinkable. Eva continues to hold on to her naive traditions as she opens herself up to and is exposed to Picasso’s world — a world unlike her own.
No innocent bystander, Picasso is a man on a mission. In establishing a relationship with Eva, he enters the relationship with serious baggage. He lives with his lover, Fernande Olivier. Fernande brings her own complications — she’s married to another man.
Eva’s interactions with Fernande are scandalous in nature and pose an interesting “friendship.” Their relationship would have potentially made for a highly rated episode for a modern-day reality television show.
Ms. Girard’s fictional account of Picasso and Gouel’s romance evolves with a backdrop involving the theft of the Mona Lisa and World War I, and the tale is gripping and uncanny. Their complicated relationship rises to new levels with every chapter.
“Madame Picasso” is not your typical romance novel — boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl experience conflict, they reunite, and live happily ever after. This is not your mother’s romance novel. The question becomes — Is Eva’s love enough to tame Picasso’s love for women outside their relationship?
Ms. Girard also portrays several artists and performers as secondary characters, such as Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Louis Marcoussis, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Their lives are out of the ordinary and could possibly become the basis for stand-alone, historical novels or perhaps as nonfiction projects. I found “Madame Picasso” historically accurate and written with the heartfelt passion that I expect as a fan of romance novels.
If you’re not already familiar with the love story of Picasso and Gouel, do yourself a favor and don’t Google it. You’ll spoil the suspense associated with this tale of love and life’s twists and turns that can unleash or hinder the power of love. I am eagerly looking forward to reading future works from Anne Girard.
Wilma Brockington is author of “Been There, Done That: Lessons Learned on Love & Life from Women 55 & Better.”