The Age of Light
BOOK: The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer (Amazon)
Category: Historical fiction
SUMMARY: A gorgeous, intimate historical novel about a model and artist’s search for fulfillment, set across 1920s Paris and World War II.
READ THIS BOOK IF: You love historical fiction and/or ill-fated romances, you’re an art buff, you secretly always wished you could time-travel to Paris in the 1920s.
Have you ever had a beautiful, talented friend date someone who is - okay, fine - sort of hot and talented in their own right, but also kind of an asshole who only appreciates her as long as he doesn’t feel threatened? And expects that she’ll give up her hopes and dreams to support his career? And maybe even takes credit for her work sometimes? And you’re like, “Girl, why are you still dating him, he sucks.” And she’s like, “Yeah, I know, but he’s the famous artist Man Ray and he’s super hot and I know this is going to crash and burn eventually so we’re just going to stay on this ride for as long as it lasts.”
I’m pretty sure that’s a universal experience (well, except for the last part). It’s also basically the plot of Whitney Scharer’s The Age of Light, which tells the lightly-fictionalized-but-largely-true story of Lee Miller, a remarkable woman who went from fashion model to respected Surrealist artist to wartime photojournalist.
The book focuses heavily on Lee’s time in Paris, where she moves as a young woman to learn photography after abandoning her modeling career. After a rough start, she befriends a group of bohemian artists and ends up meeting the famous photographer and artist Man Ray. She convinces him to let her be his assistant, quickly becoming his muse and lover, too. They begin a wild, destructive relationship that sets off the book’s central conflict: she wants to create art, not inspire someone else’s. More importantly, she wants to be Lee Miller, not “Man Ray’s lover.”
What follows is a beautifully told romance and an incredibly relevant-to-today reflection on love, art and who gets to make it, and how difficult it can be as a woman to retain your sense of self when life seems designed to chip away at it.
It’s the kind of historical novel that makes you stop every 5 pages to Google something, like, “Did that really happen?!” If you’re like me, you’ll want to look up Lee and Man and read everything about their lives and see every piece of art mentioned in the book.
It’s not a book that will surprise you with plot twists - the first chapter makes it clear that this story doesn’t have a romance-novel-happy ending. But the truly lovely writing - and the need to know what happens to lead to that ending - will make you keep reading.