By James MacManus
Thomas Dunne Books, $25.99, 336 pages
James MacManus’ Black Venus tells the story of the mixed race mistress of the poet Charles Baudelaire. From their first chaotic meeting in a bar brawl to their ultimate parting, Jeanne Duval and Baudelaire have a tumultuous relationship. She acts as his muse but also struggles with his desire to control her. Baudelaire, on the other hand, is under constant pressure for money, despite his comfortable background. His mother is pushing him to find more suitable female companionship. He also struggles to reconcile his middle-class background with his poetry that his contemporaries find obscene and his bohemian outlook. The characters in this novel are fascinating. Unfortunately, MacManus’ storytelling is not. The characters, even over a period of years, don’t seem to grow or change, reacting to largely the same motivations at the beginning of the story as at the end. The novel was enjoyable, but not overly compelling. It would be a good beach read for fans of historical novels.
Reviewed by Katie Richards