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Lynn Cullen – The Creation of Eve

March 15, 2010

22. The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen (2010)

Length: 390 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

The Creation of Eve will be published by Putnam on 23 March 2010; you can pre-order your copy here.

Started: 21 February 2010
Finished: 26 February 2010
Where did it come from? From the publishers via TLC Blog Tours

Why do I have it? See above. (Also, many thanks, TLC!)
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 25 January 2010.

Art, love, and scandal
erupt in the Spanish court
of Felipe II.

A self-portrait by Sofonisba Anguissola

Summary: The Creation of Eve tells the story of Sofonisba Anguissola, one of Michelangelo’s students, and the first famous female artist of the Renaissance. After losing her heart – and her virginity – to another of Michelangelo’s students, Sofi is summoned to the Spanish court, where she is to teach King Felipe II’s young French queen how to draw. She quickly become the Queen’s favorite lady-in-waiting, but that position is not all it’s cracked up to be; not only does her own painting take a back seat to the demands of royalty, but Sofi is also unprepared for the intrigues of court life – especially a court in which the young Queen may be developing feelings for the King’s illegitimate half-brother… a crime that carries the penalty of death.

Review: The basic themes of The Creation of Eve – of a royal court full of intrigue, of a young woman forced into a political marriage, of the duty to king and country conflicting with the desires of the heart – are pretty standard fare in historical fiction. However, Lynn Cullen manages to take in these tropes and turn out a compelling story, and one that distinguishes itself from the pack via the addition of Sofonisba Anguissola as its narrator. One of the main reasons that I read historical fiction is to learn about people and events and places that I didn’t know about before, and on that front, The Creation of Eve was wildly successful. Cullen brings the court of of Felipe II to life with a deft touch and vivid details, and its main inhabitants sound and feel like real people rather than stock characters. (It was also a refreshing change from my normal reading to come across a “royal intrigue and scandal” book that wasn’t about the British monarchy.)

Elizabeth de Valois, Queen of Spain (portrait by Sofonisba Anguissola)

In The Creation of Eve, Cullen also introduced me to an artist – and a period of history – that had heretofore been missing from my (admittedly spotty) knowledge of art history. Sofi’s a very interesting narrator, and Cullen never wanders from her voice or her perspective. I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more about the art – from reading the back cover, I was expecting the story to focus more on “Sofi the artist”, but the novel turned out to primarily be “Sofi the lady-in-waiting,” with the royal love triangle taking center stage. However, I guess I can’t complain too much, since (as Cullen explains in her excellent author’s note) the shift from artist to lady-in-waiting happened in real life as well, so it’s really history and not the historical fiction that wasn’t living up to expectations. Indeed, Cullen takes very few liberties with the historical record, which results in a book that is not only an enjoyable read, but actually an interesting and memorable history lesson as well. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Historical fiction fans will enjoy this one for sure, particularly those who like art history or Spain as well.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Lynn Cullen’s Website
Wikipedia page on Sofonisba Anguissola

Other Reviews: Booking Mama, Books and Movies, Cafe of Dreams, Peeking Between the Pages, Scandalous Women
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: In the time it takes to pluck a hen, I have ruined myself.

Cover Thoughts: Honestly? I’m not super-crazy about it. There’s nothing actually wrong with it, but nothing about it particularly says “about a painter” or “Spain” to me, either.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 32: “I told them how in Rome women teetered around on twelve-inch-high chopines, claiming the need to keep above the mud and refuse littering the cobblestones but in truth wishing to show off the jewels encrusted on their heels.” – a shoe having a thick sole, usually of cork, suggesting a short stilt, worn esp. by women in 18th-century Europe after its introduction from Turkey.
    .
  • p. 189: “He was leaning on an arquebus, its wooden stock sunk into the sandy soil, as he spoke to his sister, Doña Juana and doña Eufrasia, whose little dogs snuffled through a drift of leaves near their skirts, oblivious to the King’s pair of mastiffs being restrained at leash a short distance away.” – any of several small-caliber long guns operated by a matchlock or wheel-lock mechanism, dating from about 1400.
    .
  • p. 293: “Although many pigments benefit from liberal grinding, take great care when preparing pigments like smalt, bice, and the blue, ultramarine.” – a coloring agent made of blue glass produced by fusing silica, potassium carbonate, and cobalt oxide, used in powdered form to add color to vitreous materials.; “pale blue color,” early 15c.

**All quotes come from an advance copy and may not reflect the final published text.**

14 Comments leave one →
  1. March 15, 2010 9:55 am

    This looks very interesting, and it is refreshing to see a historical novel about something other than England… I think I’ll have to pick this up! Thanks for your review.

    • March 19, 2010 12:42 pm

      Omni – I feel like there have been a fair number of other Spanish-centric historical fiction novels recently, but I haven’t read many of them.

  2. March 15, 2010 12:08 pm

    I just sort of skimmed your review because this is the next book I’m reading, but I am glad to see you are recommending it, I definitely trust your historical fiction judgment.

  3. March 15, 2010 12:46 pm

    I do like art, so I think this sounds really good. Fantastic review!

    • March 19, 2010 12:47 pm

      bermudaonion – This does seem like it would be right up your alley!

  4. March 15, 2010 4:51 pm

    I read historical fictions for much the same reasons, so I think I’d also enjoy this.

    • March 19, 2010 12:47 pm

      Nymeth – …although I’d be willing to bet your grasp on European history is probably a lot firmer than mine.

  5. Lynn Cullen permalink
    March 16, 2010 9:05 am

    Thank you for your kind review. I loved that you provided a vocabulary. Great idea!

    • March 19, 2010 12:49 pm

      Lynn – You’re welcome! Thanks for participating in the tour, and for stopping by to comment!

      I’ve been jotting down vocab words from my reading for about two years now, and there were probably plenty of words in your book that I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t encountered them in other historical fiction first. :)

  6. March 16, 2010 1:40 pm

    I love that Cullen doesn’t take much liberty with the historical history. Which just goes to show that history can be interesting! I found that I hated history…until I got a teacher that told history like a story. Then I was hooked!

    Thanks for being on this tour. :)

    • March 19, 2010 12:50 pm

      Trish – I was never a fan of history in school, which probably explains why I rely so much on historical fiction for my knowledge now. :)

  7. March 19, 2010 1:02 pm

    What a great review! I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it : as a history student and a historical fiction reader, I was really intrigued by this book. I’ll make sure to read it; I’m fascinated by women artists.

    • March 19, 2010 1:37 pm

      kay – This is a good one for you, then, since Sofonisba Anguissola was one of the first. :)

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