Thursday, February 5, 2015

Postérité: A Review

I am a huge fan of Jake Lamar’s writing. I’ve read his memoir and all of his novels and I attended the reading for his stage play Brothers in Exile.

Jake's most recent book, Postérité (Rivages, 2014), is the only work of his that I’ve read in French. In fact, this is the first book by Jake that has been released in French prior to being published in English.

Postérité represents additional firsts for Jake as well. It is his first novel that cannot be categorized as a thriller. It is his first novel that does not revolve around a black character or examine race relations. It delves deeply into the subject of modern/contemporary art and the tragedy of the Rotterdam Blitz of World War II.

Postérité is the story of two protagonists – a Dutch abstract expressionist painter, Femke Versloot, and an American art history professor, Toby White, who wants to write a book about her. White can be viewed as an intellectual “stalker” of sorts. He desperately wants to expose the “life behind the art” of the enigmatic painter in a scholarly publication, which he believes will open the doors to a prestigious appointment at a major American university. In the hope of getting close to his subject, he begins an intimate relationship with Versloot’s granddaughter (who also happens to be his student).

During the course of the story, we learn that Versloot is a contemporary of Jackson Pollack and countryman Willem de Kooning and that her art does not receive the same level of recognition and accolades as the works of these male colleagues until very late in her life. As Jake “pulls back the curtain” on her world, we discover an artist who is completely obsessed with her work and whose personal life is shrouded in mystery.

Jake signing a copy of Postérité
© Discover Paris!

In his inimitable way, Jake weaves back and forth between past and present, giving us tantalizing glances into events that have molded Femke Versloot into the artist that White pursues. He introduces us to Joop, the younger brother whom Versloot abandoned in Rotterdam at the end of the war. As his story unfolds, the reader almost wills him to expose the secrets that his sister has kept buried for over 50 years. Jake presents the men in Versloot’s life, her daughter, her granddaughter, and friends and acquaintances who provide glimpses the psyche of this impenetrable character. And he includes several twists in the plot that are reminiscent of the thrillers that he’s published in the past.

Versloot’s art takes on the role of a character in the book as well:

“a painting that seemed to seethe, from corner to corner, with molten red and brown”

September 1949, a churning whirlpool in viscous mud tones”

“ this unsettling tableau, with its purplish epicenter surrounded by expanding greenish-bluish rings that seem to seep through the canvas. Ultra fine blue tentacles snaking through the rings . . .”

Jake’s description of the paintings renders them vivid in the mind’s eye and gives them a soul and a purpose independent of the person who created them. Not only can you see them, you can FEEL them.

For Francophone readers, I highly recommend this well-woven tale of intrigue.

For Anglophone readers, look for a follow-up post on this blog when the original (English-language) version of the book (entitled Posthumous) is published.


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Patricia A. Patton said...

How nice to be introduced to this author but even more to this story of which bits and pieces are extremely familiar and tantalizing. Thanks Monique.

About Beauford Delaney said...

My pleasure!