Review of debut novel by Serena Burdick titled “Girl in the Afternoon”

girl-in-the-afternoonGirl in the Afternoon is a debut novel by Serena Burdick. It takes place in the 1870’s, in Paris, during what is referred to as the Belle Epoque. The family at the centre of the story is the wealthy Savaray family.

The main characters are Aimee Savaray, her grandmother, usually referred to simply as “Madame Savaray,” her parents Colette and Auguste and a young English fellow who moved in with the family when he was a pre-teen. Also involved in the story is Parisian impressionist painter Edouard Manet and an artist’s model, Leonie, who becomes friends with Aimee.

At this point, I would normally write a short but complete summary of this novel but I can’t do it in this case, because there are so many secrets in this story that, if I told them all, I would ruin the story for everyone else. So, I will write a partial summary instead.

As the story opens, Henri has basically left the Savaray home. Why? At this point, we don’t know. Aimee misses him greatly as, growing up together as brother and sister, they created art together for years. Aimee gets involved in studying art and in the Paris art scene and, of course, eventually finds Henri.

Aimee becomes friends with a figure drawing model named Leonie who ends up having an affair with Henri. In fact, they move in together. Aimee is extremely jealous and has a short affair with Manet as revenge. Unfortunately, Aimee gets pregnant.

To avoid any scandal, she lives with Leonie and Henry until the baby is born, a daughter named Jeanne, and then goes to England (where her family thought she was all along). So, gossip doesn’t follow her.

I found this book very depressing. Aimee and Henri, although not related by blood, grow up as bother and sister and yet love each other as they would a non-relative. In fact, throughout the book, Aimee feels that Henri has let her down by not coming back for her. Which means, that while Aimee and Henri are not related by blood, they are responsible for the incestuous thread throughout the book. On that point alone, I found the story disturbing.

Overall, the writing is good, although I question the structure as I found the Epilogue unsettling and out-of-place somehow — unless Burdick intends to write a sequel. The title is interesting as it is based on one of Henri’s paintings.

Personally, I don’t like stories that are so melancholy. Time is valuable. When I read, I want to be uplifted or inspired in some way. I was not uplifted or inspired by this story although I was engaged by the characters’ sufferings to the point that I am writing this review. Would I read a sequel? Would I seek out other work by this author? No.

My rating for this novel is 3 stars out of 5.

Published by St. Martin’s Press, July 2016 (288 pages)