In this fictionalized account of historical events, twenty-year-old British socialite and then-aspiring painter Leonora Carrington follows Max Ernst—an older, married artist—to Paris in 1937. As the Nazis consolidate power across Europe, Surrealist artists are labeled 'degenerates,' leading to Max's arrest and imprisonment and Leonora alone in occupied Paris, where she faces terrifying circumstances to survive and fulfill her destiny as a world-famous artist.
Carter shines a light upon Leonora Carrington, an important artist who, like so many other women artists, has been overlooked ... The book is told through the lens of Leonora, Max, and Peggy Guggenheim. It is a useful tool to show how they all influenced, and both fed and stunted each other. Time is not linear, especially at the beginning of the book, and, at times, this method slows the pace of the story ... less a story about love, and more a story about finding your own authentic voice. It is the rare story of a great woman who knows what she must sacrifice to find out who she is.
... a work of easily accessible realism. Carter understands that she is telling a love story, and appropriately enough, we have alternating access to both Leonora’s and Max’s perspectives ... Leonora in the Morning Light is most convincing when telling the love story between Leonora and Max and in its early sections, where Carter captures the uncertain striving of ambivalent attraction that a young Leonora has toward the older, more established artist. For this reader, the novel most disappoints in its back half, when dipping into Leonora’s psychosis and her subsequent turn away from Max’s influence. Carter does not attempt to beat Carrington’s account of her stay at the asylum...but it’s hard to understand Leonora’s metamorphosis with such cursory treatment ... while Carter’s novel gives us all the outward particulars of her life, Carrington’s spirit somehow eludes the work.
With a tantalizing cast that includes the women artists Leonor Fini, Lee Miller, and Remedios Varo; ravishing descriptions cued by her subjects’ provocative art; and her exquisite attunement to the shock and agony of war and madness, Carter has written a refulgent and deeply involving historical tale of tragic lost love, determined survival, the sanctuary of art, and the evolution of a muse into an artist of powerfully provocative feminist expression.