The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer, 4 Stars

What is the deal with average looking successful men and gorgeous young women? Okay, even just typing that feels silly. Because in the end is success ranked higher than beauty? Or are they somehow on equal ground?

I guess both can be equally appealing in a relationship and having one seems to guaranteed access to the other?

These are the questions I asked myself as I read Whitney Scharer’s The Age of Light, an imagined re-telling of Lee Miller and Man Ray’s relationship in the 1930’s. So much of their relationship reminded me of Carrie and Alexandre Petrofsky, but I suppose it’s really just a tale as old as time.

So how was the book?

From the Publisher:

She went to Paris to start over, to make art instead of being made into it.
A captivating debut novel by Whitney Scharer, The Age of Light tells the story of Vogue model turned renowned photographer Lee Miller, and her search to forge a new identity as an artist after a life spent as a muse. “I’d rather take a photograph than be one,” she declares after she arrives in Paris in 1929, where she soon catches the eye of the famous Surrealist Man Ray. Though he wants to use her only as a model, Lee convinces him to take her on as his assistant and teach her everything he knows. But Man Ray turns out to be an egotistical, charismatic force, and as they work together in the darkroom, their personal and professional lives become intimately entwined, changing the course of Lee’s life forever. Lee’s journey takes us from the cabarets of bohemian Paris to the battlefields of war-torn Europe during WWII, from discovering radical new photography techniques to documenting the liberation of the concentration camps as one of the first female war correspondents. Through it all, Lee must grapple with the question of whether it’s possible to reconcile romantic desire with artistic ambition-and what she will have to sacrifice to do so.

Told in interweaving timelines, this sensuous, richly detailed novel brings Lee Miller-a brilliant and pioneering artist-out of the shadows of a man’s legacy and into the light.

My Review:

The first thing that really pulled me in about The Age of Light is the cover. It’s gorgeous. For me, it really nailed all the glamour and lackadaisical excess of being somebody in the 1930’s. It screams Great Gatsby and evokes thoughts of a golden, dreamlike time.

Lee Miller, who I actually had no idea was a real person until after I finished the book (oops), is a former model and feminist of her times. She isn’t content just being the most beautiful woman in the room. She doesn’t want to just be in front of the camera, she wants to be behind it.

Lee is the perfect heroine. The girl who you want to hate because she is talented and beautiful, but it’s hard because she’s so gosh darn ambitious and relatable. Granted, I have no idea if this is how she was in real. But in Scharer’s imagined world for her, she’s a gem.

When she meets Man Ray, a surrealist photographer, and realizes who he is , she works her magic. First securing a spot as his assistant, later as his lover. And even as he seems to respect her and treat her as a partner, we see that equality has a long way to go in 1930’s Paris.

The book dazzles. Scharer paints such a gorgeous picture of their lives and surroundings that I felt transported to Paris myself. This was what really appealed to me about the book. The settings, the attention to detail that the author went to as she brought the reader truly into the story.

I would have liked to see more. More of what Lee had done in the time between her brief but life-changing affair with Man Ray and old age. But that wasn’t this book. And maybe, when fictionalizing true people, it’s easier to focus on one bright moment in time.

I would definitely recommend this book to those who love biographies and historical fiction. Special thanks to Netgalley and Little Brown and Company for an advanced e-galley in exchange for my review.

This one is out February 5, get your copy!


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