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The Forest Lover
Cover of The Forest Lover
The Forest Lover

In her acclaimed novels, Susan Vreeland has given us portraits of painting and life that are as dazzling as their artistic subjects. Now, in The Forest Lover, she traces the courageous life and career of Emily Carr, who?more than Georgia O?Keeffe or Frida Kahlo?blazed a path for modern women artists. Overcoming the confines of Victorian culture, Carr became a major force in modern art by capturing an untamed British Columbia and its indigenous peoples just before industrialization changed them forever. From illegal potlatches in tribal communities to artists? studios in pre?World War I Paris, Vreeland tells her story with gusto and suspense, giving us a glorious novel that will appeal to lovers of art, native cultures, and lush historical fiction.

In her acclaimed novels, Susan Vreeland has given us portraits of painting and life that are as dazzling as their artistic subjects. Now, in The Forest Lover, she traces the courageous life and career of Emily Carr, who?more than Georgia O?Keeffe or Frida Kahlo?blazed a path for modern women artists. Overcoming the confines of Victorian culture, Carr became a major force in modern art by capturing an untamed British Columbia and its indigenous peoples just before industrialization changed them forever. From illegal potlatches in tribal communities to artists? studios in pre?World War I Paris, Vreeland tells her story with gusto and suspense, giving us a glorious novel that will appeal to lovers of art, native cultures, and lush historical fiction.

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Excerpts-
  • From the book : Salmonberry, 1906

    Letting her cape snap in the wind, Emily gripped her carpetbag and wicker food hamper, and hiked up the beach, feasting her eyes on Hitats'uu spread wide beneath fine-spun vapor. Cedars elbowing firs and swinging their branches pushed against the village from behind. One wayward fir had fallen and lay uprooted with its foliage battered by waves and tangled in kelp. Wind whipped up a froth of sword fern sprouting in its bark. At last, she was right here, where trees had some get-up-and-go to them, where the ocean was wetter than mere water, where forest and sea crashed against each other with the Nootka pressed between them.

    She had been to San Francisco and found it cramped, to London and found it stifling. She had ridden the Canadian Pacific Railway across the Rockies, breathless at their jagged power, and had galloped bareback across a ranch in the Western Cariboo, swinging her hat and whooping to the broad sky. She'd gone home to the starched and doilied parlor of the yellow, two-story bird cage of a house in Victoria, British Columbia, where she'd been born, and found only hypocrisy and criticism there.

    But this, oh this, the west coast of Vancouver Island, wave-lashed and smelling of salt spray and seaweed, the teeming, looming forest alive with raven talk and other secrets, the cedar bighouses scoured by storms to a lovely silver sheen, the whole place juicy with life, was more wild, more free, more enticing than she remembered it when she'd come here eight years earlier. Or was it she that was different?

    Lulu, grown into a young woman now, clamming on the beach, remembered her as soon as she'd climbed out of the hired canoe that had delivered her here from the steamer dock a mile away. Now, with Lulu carrying Emily's canvas sketch sack, a pack of barking, leprous-looking dogs came tearing toward them. "Stay down," Emily ordered, planting her feet wide apart.

    Lulu ran them off, her braids flying, her long indigo skirt billowing, clams clacking in the basket on her back. She came back to Emily. "Sorry. They awful mean."

    They approached the largest of the bighouses, ancestral dwelling lodges of many families, this one painted with a huge faded red sun. Lulu held open a hide hanging in the doorway, and motioned her inside. Don't you dare go. Her sister Dede's angry command issued in their parlor two days before still grated on her mind. Just who do you think you are ... ?

    A thrill of defiance rippled through her as she stepped in.

    Smells of fish and grease and the rich spice of wood smoke engulfed her. Women in striped cotton dresses sitting on tiers of platforms around the fire murmured and gave her curious looks. Some stopped what they'd been doing. An old woman in a red head scarf watched her with narrowed eyes, probably wondering what a white woman wearing a strange plaid English tam perched on her head was doing in their isolated village.

    "Hello," Emily said.

    Only a twitch of her bottom lip showed that she'd heard.

    "The Nootka aren't much for friendliness," the captain of the steamer had told her a couple of hours earlier.

    "But I've arranged to stay with the missionaries," she'd said.

    "They packed up and left a month ago. I'd reconsider if I were you."

    She'd felt the captain's words as a blow beneath her ribs. Dede would have gloated if she knew. As it was, Dede had given her a tongue-lashing about her mania for tramping through the wilderness with Indians, calling it a disgrace to the family. Still, she'd stepped off the steamer onto the dock at Ucluelet, and now, in this bighouse, she shoved back the fear that she'd made a mistake.

    Lulu nodded to a man who...

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from November 24, 2003
    The Canadian artist Emily Carr (1871– 1945) could be a feminist icon. Spirited and courageous, inspired by an inner vision of "distortion for expression" and by a mission to capture on canvas the starkly fierce totem poles carved by the Indian tribes of British Columbia, Carr endured the disapproval of her family and of society at large until her belated vindication. One of the pleasures of this beguiling novel based on Carr's life is the way Vreeland (Girl in Hyacinth Blue
    ) herself has acquired a painter's eye; her descriptions of Carr's works are faithful evocations of the artist's dazzling colors and craft. No art schools taught the techniques that Carr felt suitable to the immense, rugged landscape of British Columbia. Moreover, when she ventured into isolated tribal villages and befriended the natives, braving physical discomfort and sometimes real danger, she was accused of "unwholesome socializing with primitives." Drawing on Carr's many journals, Vreeland imagines her experiences in remote areas of B.C. as well as in Victoria, Vancouver and (briefly) France. There are few dramatic climaxes; instead, Vreeland emphasizes Carr's relationships with her rigidly conventional siblings and with her mentors and colleagues. She vividly describes the obstacles Carr faced when she ventured into the wilderness and in her periods of near poverty and self-doubt. A fictitious French fur trader introduces a romantic element, which may offend purists. Much of the suspense comes through Carr's affectionate relationship with a real woman, Sophie Frank, a Squamish basket maker who loses nine children to white men's diseases. Adding to Sophie's emotional desolation is the torment introduced by inflexible Christian dogma that alienates tribes from their native traditions and spiritual beliefs. Vreeland provides this historical background with the same authoritative detail that she brings to the Victorian culture that challenged Carr's pioneering efforts. Her robust narrative should do much to establish Carr's significance in the world of modern art. Agent, Barbara Braun.
    17-city author tour. (Feb. 9)

    Forecast
    :
    Vreeland's sizable audience should guarantee this book an early place on the charts.

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