Every painting tells a story, but what if the women on the canvas could talk…
Vienna, at the beginning of the 20th century, is an exhilarating social whirl, a city of ideas, of music, of ground-breaking art, lead by Gustav Klimt until the arrival of his scandalous protegee, Egon Schiele. Into this world come four women, each with their own story to tell:
ADELE: passionate, fierce, obstinate. The daughter of a bourgeois family, she rails against the strictures of her class and harbours her own wild fantasies.
GERTRUDE: spirited, single-minded, possessive. The sister to budding artist Egon Schiele, she longs for an exciting life away from their tempestuous family home.
VALLY: determined, independent, proud. A model for celebrated artist Gustav Klimt, she has carved her way out of poverty and is now forging a brave new path for herself.
EDITH: quiet, conventional, loyal. Or is she? Younger sister to Adele, Edith is overlooked and wonders if there is another version of the woman she might become.
Four flames, four wild, blazing hearts, longing to be known. In an elegant bohemian city like Vienna, everything seems possible – until an act of betrayal changes everything. For just as a flame has the power to mesmerize, it can also destroy everything in its path . . .
Offering a well-researched blend of fact and fiction, Sophie Haydock’s debut novel The Flames instantly transported me to early twentieth-century Vienna and into the lives of four extraordinary women, all of whom have influenced the life – and work – of scandalous, innovative artist Egon Schiele.
Flame-haired and fiery-tempered, Adele Harms knows that she is destined to be more than just another society wife. From the moment she sees the young artist who has moved in across the street, she knows that their fates will be intertwined. Gertrude Schiele, meanwhile, longs to follow in her brother’s footsteps and escape the confines of their small town existence. For Vally Neuzil, already a model for the famous Gustav Klimt, Egon is just another artist who wants to paint her: a means to an end that becomes something more. For Edith Harms, Adele’s sister, he is the man who will become her husband.
All four of these women are connected by Egon Schiele: inveterate artist and Klimt protégé, whose defiant, provocative nudes scandalise polite society and earn him a reputation as a pornographer. Yet, as Sophie Haydock displays, these women might be connected to Schiele but their lives are not – and should not – be solely defined by him.
In this captivating novel, Haydock imagines the lives of four women who, although their faces shine out at us from the walls of art galleries and collections across the globe, have had their voices lost amidst the admiring chatter of the art world. In doing so, she explores not only the relationship between artist and model, but explores the inner lives and personal circumstances of four women whose provocative poses set the artist, the art world, and polite society, aflame.
With an evocative sense of both time and place, Haydock expertly re-creates the heady and sensual world of Egon Schiele, capturing both the allure that he might have offered whilst being unafraid to consider the problematic ways in which the women who made his name might have been treated. I say ‘might’ because, as Sophie Haydock makes clear in an illuminating author’s note, very little tangible evidence – beyond, of course, Egon’s captivating portraits of them – has survived about the lives of Egon’s muses. What Haydock imagines, however, is not only convincing but offers a tantalising glimpse into the vivid, complicated lives that surely lay behind these images.
I became utterly absorbed in the lives of Adele, Gertrude, Vally, Edith, and the way in which their lives intersected, spiralling around the complex and often challenging figure of Egon himself. Rich in historical detail and thick with the allure of imagined possibilities, The Flames is an impressive debut that is vividly bought to life the lives of one of the twentieth-centuries most provocative artists, and the women who lay behind so many of his famous works.
If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green Bookshop, Sam Read Booksellers, Book-ish, Scarthin Books, and Berts Books.
My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 29th March 2022 so please do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!
Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!