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on 27 March 2015
Getting into the book I did realise what it was going to be about from Barbara Morden's book on Laura Knight - see elsewhere on my Profile page. I thought it charmingly told but only one incident in lives of busy & successful painters. I'd try another Jonathan Smith just to confirm I enjoyed his book. I'd still read further on Munnings although he was portrayed accurately.
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on 31 July 2013
Having seen the film I was inspired to read the novel, and yes, it did go further in explaining the motivation of the characters.
There were some glaring plot discrepancies,however, for example what happened to Florence's sister who chaperoned her to Lamorna then proceeded to disappear into thin air. All in all a pleasant holiday read.
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on 25 July 2013
I bought this book because I am interested in Sir Alfred Munnings who painted a picture of the place where I live. I have read the three unabridged volumes of his autobiography. I enjoyed them being a lover of horses, the countryside and paintings. I read on an internet site that he had had a first wife who committed suicide and was curious as Munnings does not mention this in his autobiography.

Because of the publicity re the recent film made from the book Summer in February I was keen to read the book and see the film.

I would recommend this book. I thought it was well written and it is a very gripping story, with the addition of being set in beautiful Cornwall. Unlike some faction novels, I felt that the author stuck to the facts he actually had evidence of and portrayed the characters well, all of whom were real people. In this book you learn about the Lamorna group of artists, partiularly Harold and Laura Knight which I found fascinating. Also many incidents portrayed in the book were also in Munnings' autobiography. Munnings was a hard swearing, hard drinking man who loved to be the centre of attention and entertain his friends with recitals of poetry, including some of his own. He liked painting gypsies and seemed a bit of a gypsy himself, moving around from place to place, often at short notice. However he worked hard at his art, working outdoors in all weathers. Florence remains an enigmatic character and it is difficult to understand why she ever agreed to marry Munnings, let alone went through with it. It is a sad story for all concerned but I still felt a bit of sympathy for Munnings in the situation, although far more for Gilbert Evans. As for Florence, I am not sure if she was a victim or a bit of a minx. Florence's brother asks Evans what he thinks of his sister. He says "extraordinary" and the brother replies "but not extraordinarily odd?".
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on 23 June 2013
I wanted to read this book as I'm a big fan of the Newlyn School of painting and know the area the book is set in intimately so anything related to either subject is of great interest to me. However, although I found the book interesting I felt the style was quite stilted and at times I had to re-read what I'd just read as I wasn't sure what was happening for example, after Florence's first suicide attempt when Evans is researching the effects of cyanide poisoning and the process of decomposition of the body and then in the next chapter she is coming down to dinner! At times I felt the dialogue was so awful it was comical - some of Munnings's dialogue reminded me of the Prince Regent from the Blackadder series! Also, I found the character of Florence to be so two dimensional. There was no explanation of why she chose to marry Munnings who came over as rather an objectionable character. This I found rather annoying as I thought the book would shed some light on this. However, I am glad I read it and shall enjoy seeing the film which will hopefully breathe more life into these rather flat characters.
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on 6 August 2006
This is the best book I have read in a long time. Beautifully evocative of the gentle way of life before 1914, it describes a motley and somewhat eccentric group of artists living on the south coast of Cornwall. Each is so vividly brought to life and has their own distinctive voice, that we feel what they are feeling, particularly the repressed passion of quiet, sensible Gilbert who we almost wish wouldn't behave quite so impeccably! We share the landscape too, seeing the light as an artist does, enjoying the wild flowers and the sea air.
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on 13 January 2013
This is a superb book - and I wrote to the author to say it was a film that should be made. He had the kindly replied and said it was to be made into a film. But for those of you who prefer books, read the book before the film. It is wonderfully written and really is of interest to anyone who loves Cornwall, the artists' world, painting, romance, and historical fact. I absolutely loved it and I don't read much fiction - but this was based on a true story and is really wonderful. I urge you all to read it before going to see the brilliant film - bet the scenery will be fabulous too.
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I bought this book to read something of the early life of A. J. Munnings, the renowned painter of horses and gypsies. Munnings and the important artists, Laura and Harold Knight, lived for a while in Lamorna, an offshoot of the Newlyn artists colony in Cornwall in the halcyon days before the First World War. The author describes very well the atmosphere of this small circle of artists working in this remote village, who were largely influenced by the work of the French naturalist painter Jules Bastien-Lapage, and the considerable impact that the arrival of the ebullient, larger than life, Munnings had upon everyday life. The book is clearly a novel, and conversation is invented, but the story involves real people and is based upon published biographies and the diaries of Major Gilbert Evans as related to the author by his son David Evans.
In addition to giving us a fascinating insight to the life and work of the Lamorna artists, and the stresses and strains of class differences, this is essentially a love story, and for the most part it is well told. However, some two thirds into the book the style does rather emulate that to be found in Mills and Boon notably, "his spine tingled as he felt her body close to him etc.," but thankfully, this does not last too long. Most of this dramatic and dark story is related in a forthright and objective manner and provides well drawn, if not always very flattering, characterisations of the key players.
This is a really quite moving and dramatic story, all the more so as it is based on fact, and these are real people not some fictional contrivance. A very interesting insight into part of the artistic colony at Lamorna before the onslaught of war and Modernism consigned them for a long period to obscurity. It is not surprising that it has now been made into a feature film.
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on 27 August 1999
This is more than a skilful recreation of painters' lives in Newlyn and Lamorna before the First World War. It is a work of meticulous research, where the characters who formed its raw material live and engage our emotions. Jonathan Smith avoids casting Munnings, larger than life and the chief protagonist, as ogre or villain; his well-judged moderation increases the book's impact. Munnings' first wife Florence's tragic story is told from the viewpoint of Major Evans, the local land agent, with pre-1914 honour, humour and restraint. It's a novel in a million -- one to be read and re-read.
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on 21 June 2009
This book was recommended by a Daily Telegraph reader as one of her favourite books and I quite agree. The author, Jonathan Smith, has written a superb novel of Sir Alfred Munnings' life at Lamorna in Cornwall and I understand that a film may be made of this fascinating story. I do hope so.
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on 13 April 2013
In Edwardian times, the West Cornwall art colonies at Newlyn and Lamorna were, it transpires, more famous than St Ives. The rise in Cornish art colonies was inspired by those like Concarneau in Brittany and followed the example of Jules Bastien-Lepage, highly celebrated in his day but eclipsed now - for his sentimentality? - by the usual Impressionist names. Rather than studio-based historical or mythological subjects, the artists chose to paint ordinary people, in the open air, in all weathers - apparently a revolutionary idea back then. This novel - 'based on a true story' - concerns the love triangle between Florence a pupil at Stanhope Forbes' art-school at Newlyn, Alfred Munnings an ebullient, larger-than-life painter on the make, and Gilbert Evans a shy but efficient land-agent for the local landowner. Background interest and amusement is supplied by painters Laura and Harold Knight ('Lamorna' Birch gets a couple of mentions but never appears), Florence's brother Joey, the local pub and hotel owners, and the wild beauty of the location. The characters often act and talk in ways that seem rather modern, but perhaps this atypicality for its era is due to the Bohemian nature of the colony itself, with its parties and drinking and nude modelling on the rocks shocking the locals. But the plot moves at a good pace, deftly switching points of view so that I felt sympathy with all sides in the conflict; the real villain being, I suppose, the patriarchal repressiveness of the times, which even the best attempts at alternative pastoral and artistic utopias couldn't overcome.
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