Monday, September 27, 2010


Readers of Mindful Pleasures might want to know that my 2008 novel The Degas Manuscript can now be purchased as an Amazon Kindle e-book. (I've also added a link in my "About the Blogger" box.)

The Degas Manuscript is a tale of art and murder in the Paris of the Impressionists. Narrated by the painter Edgar Degas, the novel tells of the mysterious events surrounding the death of a young ballet dancer in 1867. In that year, the Second Empire of Napoleon III is at its height, the emperor's powerful prefect, Baron Haussmann, is rebuilding and modernizing Paris; tourists are pouring into the city for the Universal Exposition; and a small group of painters centered around Degas and Edouard Manet are envisioning the art we now know as Impressionism.

The story begins with Degas walking across central Paris one spring day to visit his friend Manet's one-man show. When the two artists' conversation is interrupted by screams from a nearby bridge, Degas goes to investigate and sees the body of a young girl floating motionless on the surface of the Seine. Instinctively, he leaps into the river and hauls the corpse back to the riverbank. The next day a police detective tells him that the girl's death was likely a suicide, so Degas tries to forget about her and returns to his work. But the image of the dead girl still haunts him, and he feels compelled to investigate her death.

His investigation takes the reader from bohemian artists' cafes to upper class salons, from the secret world backstage at the Paris Opera to the spectacle of the 1867 Universal Exposition, from a shabby working-class brothel to the mansion of Paris's most notorious courtesan. Along the way, the veil of Second Empire frivolity is lifted to reveal the dark side of the world's most modern city. We see the Opera as a sexual marketplace where wealthy men exploit young, working-class dancers. We witness a repressive imperial government systematically expelling poor people from the city center and forcing them into slums on the outskirts. We watch as rampant capitalism transforms Paris into a city where even human beings are in danger of becoming commodities to be bought and sold. As Degas wanders into the labyrinth of the girl's life and death, he learns of a second murder and witnesses a third. Finally, after a series of surprising twists and turns, all the suspects are brought together and the killer unmasked at (where else?) a masked ball.

With a cast of characters that mixes fictional and historical figures (Degas, Manet, Berthe Morisot, Baron Haussmann, a psychopathic Bonaparte prince, a reactionary Russian count, a quixotic left-wing journalist), The Degas Manuscript is my attempt to write an intelligent, politically engaged work of genre fiction that is miles away from the poorly-written, schematically plotted works of Dan Brown and his imitators.

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