A review of Lisette's List by Susan Vreeland

In 1937, young Lisette Roux and her husband, André, move from Paris to a village in Provence to care for André’s grandfather Pascal. Lisette regrets having to give up her dream of becoming a gallery apprentice and longs for the comforts and sophistication of Paris. But as she soon discovers, the hilltop town is rich with unexpected pleasures.

Pascal once worked in the nearby ochre mines and later became a pigment salesman and frame maker; while selling his pigments in Paris, he befriended Pissarro and Cézanne, some of whose paintings he received in trade for his frames. Pascal begins to tutor Lisette in both art and life, allowing her to see his small collection of paintings and the Provençal landscape itself in a new light. Inspired by Pascal’s advice to “Do the important things first,” Lisette begins a list of vows to herself (#4. Learn what makes a painting great). When war breaks out, André goes off to the front, but not before hiding Pascal’s paintings to keep them from the Nazis’ reach.

With German forces spreading across Europe, the sudden fall of Paris, and the rise of Vichy France, Lisette sets out to locate the paintings (#11. Find the paintings in my lifetime). Her search takes her through the stunning French countryside, where she befriends Marc and Bella Chagall, who are in hiding before their flight to America, and acquaints her with the land, her neighbors, and even herself in ways she never dreamed possible. Through joy and tragedy, occupation and liberation, small acts of kindness and great acts of courage, Lisette learns to forgive the past, to live robustly, and to love again.

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (August 26, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400068177
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400068173
When we meet Lisette she is married to Andre and her life is in flux. She is an orphan, newly moved from city life in Paris, France to the village of Roussillon, Provence. She has a passion for art. The nice aspect of her marriage is the fact that her husband's grandfather, Pascal was a pigment salesman and frame maker. Andre continues his legacy until the day he goes off to war and she is left with his ailing grandfather.  Unfortunately, I had  a very difficult time connecting to and with any aspect of Lisette as a character making reading, Lisette's List a struggle. I wanted so much to be swept away in the marriage and love between Lisette and Andre but this is not a romance novel and their marriage and bond is not a very strong one. Lisette does not gush over her husband and he is definitely the more 'romantic' one. This could be because she gives up her dream of becoming a gallery apprentice to follow Andre's need to live in Provence. When Andre goes off to war and she later finds out that he dies there, her grief is not established for very long and she soon gets involved with his best friend, Maxime as well as maintaining a friendship with Bernard.  Andre is hardly mentioned after his death while the last half of the novel bounces between her 'relationships' with Andre's best friends and the presence of art.  For instance, the paintings of Chagall, Pisarro, and Cezanne in particular are weaved throughout this story as Lisette becomes friends with Pisarro and Cezanne through Pascal. 

The second issue I have with this novel is it reads more as a reference guide between the topography of Provence juxtaposed against the paintings of Pisarro and Cezanne. For instance, the colors of the landscape, the rich browns, greens, and orange hues are richly presented through painting descriptions. I got the feeling that the author did not want to write a novel at all but longed to write more about the beauty of Provence through its painters.  Also, there is this list that Lisette writes of 'vows' she makes to herself about life after advice from Pascal. So, weaved throughout Lisette's List is a sociological thread of life lessons and her passion for painting.  Many mixed messages are presented as Lisette's life changes and she tries to grow emotionally.  Another issue I had was the aspect of the novel that deals with 'the hidden paintings' that Andre hides before going off to war. He does not tell his wife anything about it and by the time the reader finds out the reasons and explanations behind the 'true' hiding of these paintings, it is so implausible that I wish the author would have taken more time to incorporate  a stronger plot twist and fleshed out the characters a bit more. As the years progress Lisette does not emotionally grow or evolve; instead she puts so much effort in to maintaining her male friendships  it negates her 'list'.  I just felt so frustrated reading, Lisette's List and sadly I truly could not connect with the characters and wanted more of a solid foundation behind the hidden paintings  and her list. It just didn't support her emotional stability as a written character.

Susan Vreeland's love for Provence shines within the pages of Lisette's List as does her passion for art. I just believe that this novel  was not the right one for me but perhaps it will be for you!

I was given a free review copy in exchange for my honest and fair review so thank you,  Random House

Lisette's List by Susan Vreeland will be published on August 26, 2014 in the USA. You can purchase it at,  Amazon


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