I have never been disappointed in an Alice Hoffman book – though this one came close. Awarded 4 stars on Goodreads. But just barely.
Like her other books, the prose of The Marriage of Opposites is beautiful. But there was also something not quite satisfactory to me in the structure of the novel.
The marriage referenced in the title is between the parents of Impressionist artist Camille Pissarro, who live their lives primarily on the island of St. Thomas and a bit, near the end, in Paris. They flaunt society’s rules in order to pursue their passion for one another, despite the implications for their children. Pissarro’s mother in particular is a formidable person, clever and independent, compared with the restrictive lives of most women in the mid 1880s.
Hoffman adheres to the known facts of Pissarro’s parents’ lives but also introduces a rich cast of fictitious characters who add great dimension to the book. And through them, Hoffman captures a lot of cultural variety from the period, like the island’s mystique, the sensitive issues of cross-racial romance, and the tightly knit Jewish community that included Pissarro’s family.
I think what was difficult for me is Hoffman’s changing of voice throughout the book. Some sections are first person, others not. One chapter focuses on one character and the next on a different one. The pace also feels uneven. Sometimes the story feels rich and complex. And other parts feel superficial. Still, I’m glad I read it and it did send me off to the Internet to research Pissarro’s life. So it definitely sparked a new interest.
More about Alice Hoffman.
You may also be interested in my review of another book by Alice Hoffman, The Dovekeepers.