Black Water Lilies – An artist’s wet dream

​This book had been eyeing me since all of last year. At the airport, on my Instagram feed, lists of must-read books and at every bookstore I waltzed into – which were many and quite often. It was everywhere. Late last year, I finally gave in and got myself a copy.
A gripping read
Black Water Lilies by Michel Bussi is based in the French village of Giverny where Impressionist painter Claude Monet had lived and worked, from 1883 to 1926. He created a magnificent garden that was the subject of his paintings, and went on to make numerous renditions of the water lilies that graced the pond. This garden is exceptionally beautiful, with its azaleas and pines, wisterias and even a Japanese bridge. I was quite unaware about the existence of the water garden, but this book made me look it up, and it is beyond words. It left me stumped. Those who love working with colours would have a field day here. No wonder Monet said he was in raptures when in his garden. It looks breathtaking.

The world of Giverny is first introduced to the readers, making them acquainted with the residents and describing the intense beauty of the place they live in. The story talks of the inhabitants that are under the dark cloud of murder. The sequence of events takes place in a span of thirteen days, when Monet’s house and gardens are thrown open to tourists. The story begins with the murder of Jerome Morval, an ophthalmologist, who was found dead in the stream that runs through the gardens. The police find a postcard of Monet’s Water Lilies in his pocket with this sentence written on the back – ‘Eleven years old. Happy Birthday.’ Jerome was known to be quite the ladies’ man, finding his way into their hearts and pants. Quite the character. Pity, he was the one who died.

The book starts with the following words:

‘Three women lived in a village.
The first was mean, the second a liar, and the third an egotist.’

It had me hooked.

In the scheme of things are these three women, of three ages, with vastly different personalities. The young Fanette Morelle who was a gifted painter, the vivacious Stephanie Dupain who was interested in artists and the third was the oldest, the narrator. I must add I was quite jealous of Fanette. She was a child prodigy, someone so gifted that she could spin magic with her brush and colours. Yes, I wish I had talent like that. Stephanie, who taught the children in the village school, was drop-dead gorgeous. Men couldn’t keep their heads on their shoulders when they were around her. And the last, the old lady, spoke her true mind. She didn’t mince words. And this is something I’ve come to realise. The older we get, the more we stop bothering about what to say and where to say it. The filter in our minds gets rusty, or we just tend to ignore it. But the narrator, boy, I’d stay out of her way.

One of Monet’s many paintings on water lilies
(Source: Google)

There are also two policemen investigating the murder. The dashing Inspector Laurenc Serenac, who was recently transferred to Giverny. He’s part of the young force, and brings with him his quirky brand of humour and weird investigation techniques. To be honest, in the beginning I didn’t quite like him. He didn’t have the characteristics I’d expect a typical policeman to possess. But later, I guess he grew on me. His deputy, Inspector Sylvio Benavides, is more of a reliable person, always keeping his finger on all facts, and not believing in everything related to gut instincts. In what seems like an initial mismatch of a pairing, later blends into a great partnership. And while I thought Laurenc didn’t care about his deputy, it was much later when I realised that was not the case. I guess some of us need time to warm up to others.

Those who are close to me know I am quite the reluctant traveller. Always tense, never at ease and this is why I love reading books that almost transport me to another place, where I get to soak in the ambience, acquaint myself with new surroundings, familiarise myself with the inhabitants of a new world and immerse myself in their lives. This book was nothing short of a treat. It sprouted in me the yearning to pick up a brush again. Every description was so lush, so rich, it left me quite mesmerised.
Note the following lines, how they’re so evocative:
‘The clear water of the stream is tinted pink, in small threads, like the fleeting pastel shades of water in which a paint brush is being rinsed.’

In short, pick up this book. Please. It will take you on a wonderful journey. I, for once, read it so slowly, savouring the lines, its construction, enjoying the details. I would often read some paragraphs over and over again, hoping to memorise the descriptions of the gardens, inserting them in my brain. I don’t think if I’ll ever get to see Monet’s ethereal gardens in real life or his home with rooms painted in bright pop of colours. Who knows? Someday, may be.

 

Kindly note: I prefer not to term my posts on books as reviews, but musings, sharing my opinions, how it made me feel and the thoughts that streamed through my head while reading them. 

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