Cooking for Picasso
By Camille Aubray
Narrated by: Mozhan Marno
Penguin Random House Audio/Random House Audio
Category: Historical Fiction | Women’s Fiction | Family Saga
Audiobook: 810 Minutes
Audiobook provided by publisher for review. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
For readers of Paula McLain, Nancy Horan, and Melanie Benjamin, this captivating novel is inspired by a little-known interlude in the artist’s life.
The French Riviera, spring 1936: It’s off-season in the lovely seaside village of Juan-les-Pins, where seventeen-year-old Ondine cooks with her mother in the kitchen of their family-owned Café Paradis. A mysterious new patron who’s slipped out of Paris and is traveling under a different name has made an unusual request—to have his lunch served to him at the nearby villa he’s secretly rented, where he wishes to remain incognito.
Pablo Picasso is at a momentous crossroads in his personal and professional life—and for him, art and women are always entwined. The spirited Ondine, chafing under her family’s authority and nursing a broken heart, is just beginning to discover her own talents and appetites. Her encounter with Picasso will continue to affect her life for many decades onward, as the great artist and the talented young chef each pursue their own passions and destiny.
New York, present day: Céline, a Hollywood makeup artist who’s come home for the holidays, learns from her mother, Julie, that Grandmother Ondine once cooked for Picasso. Prompted by her mother’s enigmatic stories and the hint of more family secrets yet to be uncovered, Céline carries out Julie’s wishes and embarks on a voyage to the very town where Ondine and Picasso first met. In the lush, heady atmosphere of the Côte d’Azur, and with the help of several eccentric fellow guests attending a rigorous cooking class at her hotel, Céline discovers truths about art, culture, cuisine, and love that enable her to embrace her own future.
Featuring an array of both fictional characters and the French Riviera’s most famous historical residents, set against the breathtaking scenery of the South of France, Cooking for Picasso is a touching, delectable, and wise story, illuminating the powers of trust, money, art, and creativity in the choices that men and women make as they seek a path toward love, success, and joie de vivre.
This is the second book I have read recently where a woman of today is trying to understand her grandmother and her life, part in the USA and part in France. This one really is a family saga as it covers time and generations, with secrets, war, crime and art.
COOKING FOR PICASSO was a truly bittersweet tale of a family with a lot of secrets. Secrets galore! What stood out for me was a domestic violence theme and how powerless many of the characters were to stop the abuse.
Women in the story are like ghosts, it is very sad. But they were also like warriors.
Another theme that stood out for me was the difference between the lives of women in pre-war France into the 21st century; the women have more rights and the freedom to make their own mistakes. And, many mistakes are made.
I enjoyed the story of Picasso and his “affair” with Ondine. It sounded more or less that Picasso would have sex with nearly any woman in his path. But, his lack of sentimentality; his (perhaps inadvertent) cruelty, help Ondine grow up and become strong.
I also enjoyed how the painter’s work, often hard to figure out, is described.
While I thought this was very interesting I felt the story depended on a lot of happenstance to move along (Celine’s father had twins from a previous marriage who conspire to continue to abuse her mother and steal her inheritance and are just like their father as abusers). There is no mystical link or magic though; if there were much of the story would have had a happier outcome.
But there are several twists and turns I didn’t see coming. And, I also enjoyed the look at Picasso’s misogynistic attitude and behavior. He is not portrayed in a friendly light; he is shown as mean, and petty.
The narrator has a pleasant voice and pronounces French with an authentic flare. She’s a winner in this book.
If you enjoy art-based mysteries, books about artists and women’s literature then this well-narrated story may be a perfect diversion this summer – and for sure if you are flying to Southern France!