The Last Nude by Ellis Avery came to me through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. It came out last month.
About the Book:
Young Rafaela Fano is struggling to carve out a life for herself in 1920s Paris when painter Tamara de Lempika spots her out walking one day and recruits her as a model. It isn’t long before the two women spend as much time in bed as they do at work, and Rafaela is thrilled to discover a new side of herself and a new perspective on love as she inspires some of Tamara’s most famous and coveted works. Based on historical fact, The Last Nude imagines Rafaela’s and Tamara’s stories, first from the model’s perspective and then, much later, from the artist’s.
My feelings toward The Last Nude were rather lukewarm. It’s not that I disliked it — more that there wasn’t really anything about it that I loved. I will be interested to see others’ reactions to the novel, as I bet there are many who will really enjoy it.
There were a couple of things I felt were well done in The Last Nude. First, it was, of course, written around a real painter, her model, and her paintings, and I thought Avery wove all three into the novel well. I also liked how Avery chose to portray Rafaela, a bright and passionate but naive girl, trying her best to find a place for herself in the world, thrilled and a little confused by the heady excitement of the role into which she finds herself suddenly thrown. The book is a quick read, not heavy or complex, but these features seemed to suit the story. Avery’s writing somehow matched de Lempika’s painting: bold, immediate, sensuous.
The parts I didn’t like had to do with the overall narrative. I thought Rafaela adjusted awfully quickly to the idea of a sexual relationship with another woman — one page she was questioning her new, unfamiliar feelings and almost literally the next she seemed one hundred percent on board with the relationship and fully invested. It made Rafaela’s transition from model to lover so quick as to be almost unbelievable, the pages before the first sexual encounter more a halfhearted prelude to be dashed through before the interesting part of the story began. (I, for one, was disappointed, as I liked Rafaela as an entity unto herself and not just as a partner for Tamara.) It didn’t match the time Avery spent developing Rafaela in later pages.
I also didn’t understand the need for Tamara’s section at the end of the novel. She is much older, near the end of her days, looking back in disjointed memories on her life. Perhaps my dislike for Tamara made me feel similarly toward her story. Whatever the cause, having her end the story instead of Rafaela partially severed my emotional connection to the novel — even if Tamara did reveal a bit more of Rafaela’s story than Rafaela herself told. I just didn’t need the epilogue, the delivery of which seemed to be Tamara’s main purpose.
Overall, I think The Last Nude just wasn’t quite the book for me. I think that has more to do with my own preferences than the book itself, and I bet there will be plenty of readers out there who will love Avery’s latest novel.