Picasso’s Lovers: Book Review

Historical fiction depicting real-life historical figures can be hit or miss for me. I appreciate candor and honesty from authors who fictionalize a well-known person, including their character flaws as well as their remarkable feats or traits. This is one of the reasons that Picasso's Lovers, the 2024 release from Jeanne Mackin, works so well. She authentically portrays one of art's most important figures, making him simultaneously alluring and despicable. Find out below what worked and what didn't work this historical fiction fan.

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Picasso's Lovers

Quick Look

  • historical fiction
  • coming-of-age and self-discovery themes
  • perfect for art history lovers
  • door ajar romance
  • spice level:🌶️🌶️

Pub Date: January 23, 2024

Thanks @uplitreads and @berkleypub for the gifted copy and advanced access.

Publisher's Synopsis

A tangled and vivid portrait of the women caught in Picasso’s charismatic orbit through the affairs, the scandals, and the art—only this time, they hold the brush.

The women of Picasso’s life are glamorous and elusive, existing in the shadow of his fame—until 1950s aspiring journalist Alana Olson determines to bring one into the light. Unsure of what to expect but bent on uncovering what really lies beneath the canvas, Alana steps into Sara Murphy’s well-guarded home to discover a past complicated by secrets and intrigue.

Sara paints a luxurious picture of the French Riviera in 1923, but also a tragic one. The more Sara reveals, the more cracks emerge in Picasso’s once-vibrant social circle—and the more Alana feels a disturbing convergence with her own life. Who are these other muses? What became of them? What will become of her?

Desperate to trace the threads, Alana dives into the glittering lives of the past. But to do so she must contend with her own reality, including a strained engagement, the male-dominated world of art journalism, and the rising threat to civil rights in America. With hard truths peeling apart around her, it turns out that the most extraordinary portrait Alana encounters is her own.

My Review

I'm the daughter of an artist, so art history and art appreciation have always been a big part of my life. So digging into a character study of Picasso was very appealing to me, and I'm happy to say that Picasso's Lovers did not disappoint on the artistic genius front. I enjoyed the way the author depicted the dichotomy of Picasso: literal genius + narcissistic lady's man. This might not be appealing to everyone, but I felt it gave authenticity to the book that would have been missing had he been depicted any other way. (For more on this, I recommend the Paris Review article "How Picasso Bled the Women in His Life for Art.")

I felt more connected to Sarah as a main character, mostly because her inner dialogue seemed more engaging, but Alana's story was intriguing. While the book is not overtly feminist, there were feminist threads that were tied up in the end which I found pleasing. Where I felt it fell a little flat was the mirrored storyline of Alana and her mother. I don't want to give anything away so I'll keep it brief. History repeats itself in a way that I found a little disappointing. Romance readers might be a bit disappointed as it's fairly chaste, but I felt it had just the right amount of steam to keep the focus on the character study.

Overall this worked well for me, as it upheld the truth about Picasso as a man while illustrating his allure to women. I personally would have been sucked into that orbit, no lie here. Folks who don't mind infidelity and complex sexual/emotional relationships will really enjoy the drama of this book. If you love 1920-1930s art scenes in Europe, then you don't want to miss this one!

My Rating

Picasso's Lovers was a pleasant departure from the typical romance. It's destructive and devastating in a way I didn't expect. I was completely drawn into the world the author created which is part of the appeal of this book. Who doesn't want to visit Paris and the French Riveria in the 1920s? If you're a fan of art history, this one's for you!

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About Carlie

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