Book Reviews

Book Review: The Flames

By Sophie Haydock

Publication Date:  March 14, 2023

466 Pages

In reading the synopsis of this novel, I was drawn to the place and time period – Vienna on the eve of World War I.   I’ve been trying to pick up more work set in Vienna and for that, this story didn’t disappoint.  I also love stories based on real people, especially those whose lives haven’t been well explored. 

This book focused on the artist Egon Schiele and the four women that were considered his muses: his sister Gertrude, his early model and paramour Vally, his wife Edith, and his sister-in-law, Adele.  Each section is given to one of the women’s points of view and explores her relationship with Egon, with a time-slip intermission between each section set in 1968 and featuring Adele as an elderly, impoverished women seeking forgiveness from her sister.  This worked well for the first section, which was from Adele’s point of view.  However, Gertrude took the stage right when I was interested in what, exactly, Adele had done and how her life had veered off from a privileged existence.  I wanted to know more about Adele, not Gertrude.  Then, just when I was invested in Gertrude, the author switched to Vally, and the process started all over again.  I don’t know if the author tried to go back too far into each woman’s life or if the repetition of several scenes, shown through different points of view, robbed a lot of the work of tension, but I found it more and more difficult to be interested each time the narrator changed. 

“The Flames” interpreted by Wombo Dream

Perhaps it would have been better to have woven in a bit more fiction and just used one point of view?  It’s difficult to say.  I will say that I understand the desire to structure a novel this way.  I’ve done it, with the intention of revealing the story more with each perspective, like peeling back layers of an onion.  My main criticism was that the repetitive scenes leached tension from the story and the plot line felt disjointed with the jumping back and forth.  That’s exactly how I felt reading this.

There’s a good story here, but it didn’t come through for me.  All I got out of this read was snapshots of these women being mistreated by the artist.  Granted, historic people are always subject to the author’s interpretation, and I doubt she meant to make Egon completely unsympathetic, but I feel like he did nothing but chase his own interests and in the process, made all of these women miserable (although I believe a few of them had their own instability issues).  The final section from his point of view did nothing to change my mind about him.

This was a great story from a historic viewpoint, but could probably have been structured differently to make it more impactful.

2.75/5 stars ⭐⭐+

Thank you to NetGalley and ABRAMS Books for providing the ARC ebook.  I’ve left my review honestly and voluntarily. 

Until next time, thank you for visiting.

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