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The Last Nude by Ellis Avery
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The Last Nude (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Ellis Avery

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2093855,966 (3.46)15
Member:CaseyStepaniuk
Title:The Last Nude
Authors:Ellis Avery
Info:Riverhead Trade (2012), Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:american, historical, read, fiction, bisexual, queer, class, jewish

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The Last Nude by Ellis Avery (2012)

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» See also 15 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
Extremely well-researched. Lots of name-dropping and historical detail. Too much even. I could never get past the feeling of reading an extremely well-researched book. The magic of the story eluded me--perhaps because I didn't empathize with Rafaela's slavish adoration of de Lempicka whose sense of entitlement and egoism left me cold. ( )
  brocade | Oct 18, 2013 |
Several people had recommended this book to me, as I tend to be interested in stories set in France. I'm glad they did -- it was a good story. I found Rafaela particularly fascinating, though I didn't really care for Tamara.

I found it odd that there was a part two, with Tamara's POV later in life. I think it would have been just as well to end the book with the end of part one. Part two seemed unnecessary, and IMO, didn't add to the story.

Excellent book, well worth the read. ( )
  alyslinn | May 25, 2013 |
Fairly lightweight, sometimes a bit soap-opera-y, but fun enough if you like reading about the artist/expat world of 1920s Paris. Also, I thought she did a really good job of showing what people will do for money, and why, and making it very human and relatable. ( )
  kgib | Mar 31, 2013 |
I picked up Ellis Avery’s latest novel The Last Nude after reading Danika’s glowing review of it on the lesbrary earlier this year. It’s not every author who can claim your lifelong allegiance after you’ve read only one of her works, but I agree with Danika that Avery is one of these writers and that reading The Last Nude is enough to convince you. This historical novel, set in Paris in the decadent 1920s period between the two world wars, is an easy book to love and sink into. From the first unassuming sentence (“I only met Tamara de Lempicka because I needed a hundred francs”), The Last Nude is captivating and delightful. The writing is exquisite; the characterization rich; and the setting wonderfully and lovingly rendered in superb detail.

Just because the novel is beautiful, though, doesn’t mean it isn’t also without its delicious complexities. We are introduced to the whirlwind environment of 20s Paris, in all its queer, smoky glory through the eyes of Rafaela Fano, an Italian-American Jew who is also experiencing it for the first time. Rafaela (her actual last name isn’t known) is a real historical person about whom we don’t know much except she was Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka’s model and inspiration for some of her most arresting works, including La Belle Rafaela, which graces the cover of the novel. Rafaela is both sweetly naïve and street-wise, having survived her family’s attempt to arrange her marriage at age sixteen by trading sex for passage to Paris. She’s survived in the city thus far by doing sex work, sometimes in more explicit scenarios than others; Rafaela is on the brink of a so-called respectable job at a department store when Tamara, seduced by her beauty on the street, recruits the young woman to model for her.

Tamara, as you might have guessed, is unbelievably sexy and glamorous; of course, she’s also a supremely talented artist with an insatiable appetite for art, wealth, and power. Rafaela falls for Tamara, hard. You know from early on, despite the fact that the story is related to us through Rafaela’s perspective, that Tamara’s motives are more complicated and less wholesome than Rafaela’s young, innocent heart wants to believe. In fact, it’s not just Tamara, it’s the whole circle Rafaela is introduced to: we enter the exotic world of the queer, artsy, bohemian population and are by turns charmed and appalled by them just as Rafaela is. Like us 21st century readers, Rafaela is a stranger to this world, its hopeful possibilities, and its hidden sinister underbelly.

Despite the sense of apprehension you feel knowing that Tamara and Rafaela’s love affair is doomed, Tamara offers something to Rafaela that is priceless: she gives Rafaela her own body back and opens up her sexuality. After the first time they make love, Rafaela recalls:
“And suddenly I remembered a day when I was very small, before my brothers came along. When my mother went out for groceries, I slopped … oil on the banister and slid down. I climbed those stairs again and again, to get that feeling: how slick my knickers got, how distinctly I could feel the spreading wings of my little figa, how the shock of bliss pleated through me like lightning. I had forgotten this kind of eagerness until now, as my body sobbed into Tamara’s hand. Again, again! I wanted to crow. I was a giddy witch on a broomstick. I was a leaping dog. I was liquor; I was laughter; I was a sliding girl on a shining rail: something I’d forgotten how to be.”

Later on, Rafaela tells us how she has learned to love and revel in her body:

“Ever since my sixteenth birthday, my body had felt like a coin in an unfamiliar currency: small, shiny, and heavy, obviously of value to somebody, but not to me… My body felt coincidental to me—I could just as easily be a tree, a stone, a gust of wind. For so long, I still felt like the ten-year-old me, skinny as a last wafer of soap, needling through Washington Square on her way to Baxter Street. But my months with Tamara had worn away the lonely old questions and replaced them with a greed of my own: my body was just a fact, this night, a kind of euphoria. I coincided with it, and with the dancing crowd. Throbbing with the horns and drums, we formed a waterfall passing over a light, each of us a drop, a spark, bright, gone. The music danced us, and I knew it wouldn’t last, this body I’d learnt to love.”

If you’re at all familiar with famous lesbian/queer/bi expatriate women from this period, you’ll be delighted to see the literary couple Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier, who ran successful bookstores and first published James Joyce’s Ulysses, function as Rafaela’s queer elders. Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas make appearances too, as well as Romaine Brooks, Natalie Barney, and Violette Morris. If you don’t know who any of these women are, I suggest looking them up asap. Ah, if only I could time travel back to one of their parties and chat with them, wearing smoky black eye shadow and red lipstick, and smoking cigarettes out of a long classy holder without knowing the consequences.

The consequences of the way Tamara treats Rafaela don’t fully emerge until the second part of the book, much smaller than the first, and from the perspective of Tamara as an old woman. On the one hand, I felt robbed of the chance to see in her own words how Rafaela pulls herself up after Tamara’s betrayal and ‘follows her dreams.’ On the other, Avery had to do something to humanize Tamara for us, if only to complicate the view of her as a ruthless egotistical villain. Although I can’t say I was completely satisfied with Tamara’s atonement, I was glad in the end to know that Tamara did care for Rafaela, amidst her self-delusions and guilt. In a way, these revelations made the love story all the more tragic; they also made the novel even more complex, powerful, and poignant than it already was. This, considering The Last Nude is (lesbian) historical fiction at its finest, is quite an achievement. ( )
  CaseyStepaniuk | Dec 12, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
In the golden age of 1920's Paris, wealth radiates off the streets. Gertrude Stein holds lavish salons, the Shakespeare & Co. bookshop hosts expatriates and aspiring novelists such as James Joyce, and painter Tamara de Lempicka prepares to create her greatest masterpieces.

It is this world that the reader, and our main character of Rafaela Fano is thrown into. Struggling and desperate, Rafaela - a young girl who has recently run away to Paris rather than marry against her will - reluctantly agrees to let a mysterious, dazzling woman paint her nude. This woman turns out to be Lempicka, a Polish Art Deco artist.
Rafaela goes from model to muse to lover, and falls deeply in love with the glamorous older woman.

This book was well written and lovely reading. Avery has a lovely way of describing things. For example, "The soft morning air was lush as cream..." (page 59). Her characters become real, especially Tamara herself.
At her betrayal, I felt as stung and hurt as Rafaela did.

The only fault I could find with this book was that I wish it had described more of the Parisian 1920's - a time period that I find fascinating.

Recommended. ( )
  joririchardson | Nov 9, 2012 |
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Book description
A stunning story of love, sexual obsession, treachery, and tragedy, about an artist and her most famous muse in Paris between the world wars.

Paris, 1927. In the heady years before the crash, financiers drape their mistresses in Chanel, while expatriates flock to the avant-garde bookshop Shakespeare and Company. One day in July, a young American named Rafaela Fano gets into the car of a coolly dazzling stranger, the Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka.

Struggling to halt a downward slide toward prostitution, Rafaela agrees to model for the artist, a dispossessed Saint Petersburg aristocrat with a murky past. The two become lovers, and Rafaela inspires Tamara's most iconic Jazz Age images, among them her most accomplished-and coveted-works of art. A season as the painter's muse teaches Rafaela some hard lessons: Tamara is a cocktail of raw hunger and glittering artifice. And all the while, their romantic idyll is threatened by history's darkening tide.

Inspired by real events in de Lempicka's history, The Last Nude is a tour de force of historical imagination. Ellis Avery gives the reader a tantalizing window into a lost Paris, an age already vanishing as the inexorable forces of history close in on two tangled lives. Spellbinding and provocative, this is a novel about genius and craft, love and desire, regret and, most of all, hope that can transcend time and circumstance.
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"A stunning story of love, sexual obsession, treachery, and tragedy, about an artist and her most famous muse in Paris between the world wars. Paris, 1927. In the heady years before the crash, financiers drape their mistresses in Chanel, while expatriates flock to the avant-garde bookshop Shakespeare and Company. One day in July, a young American named Rafaela Fano gets into the car of a coolly dazzling stranger, the Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka. Struggling to halt a downward slide toward prostitution, Rafaela agrees to model for the artist, a dispossessed Saint Petersburg aristocrat with a murky past. The two become lovers, and Rafaela inspires Tamara's most iconic Jazz Age images, among them her most accomplished-and coveted-works of art. A season as the painter's muse teaches Rafaela some hard lessons: Tamara is a cocktail of raw hunger and glittering artifice. And all the while, their romantic idyll is threatened by history's darkening tide. Inspired by real events in de Lempicka's history, The Last Nude is a tour de force of historical imagination. Ellis Avery gives the reader a tantalizing window into a lost Paris, an age already vanishing as the inexorable forces of history close in on two tangled lives. Spellbinding and provocative, this is a novel about genius and craft, love and desire, regret and, most of all, hope that can transcend time and circumstance. "-- "A novel by the author of The Teahouse Fire about an artist and a young American woman beginning in 1920's Paris"--… (more)

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