The Strawberry Girl by Lisa Stromme: A Review!

It's summer 1893, and the Norwegian fishing village of Åsgårdstrand is preparing for the arrival of well-to-do guests and bohemian artists from the city. Local girl Johanne Lien dutifully gathers berries for tourists and poses barefoot for painters as 'The Strawberry Girl'.

Johanne becomes a maid for the wealthy Ihlen family, whose wayward daughter, Tullik, recruits her as a go-between in her pursuit of the controversial painter Edvard Munch.

Before long, Johanne is drawn into the raw emotion of Munch's art and his secret liaison with Tullik. But when she is asked to hide more than just secrets, Johanne must decide whether to take the risk....

Lisa Stromme brings alive the tumultuous love affair that inspired one of the most famous paintings of all time in a vivid and bewitching story of innocence, creativity and desire.

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher:  Chatto & Windus (7 April 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1784740586
  • ISBN-13: 978-1784740580 
     
Munch and I had met many times before: along the lanes, on the beach and in the forest where I searched for fruit and herbs from morning to night. I trailed him, shy and gawky, intrigued by the paintings he left out in the open, the way they spoke to me. Sometimes he'd see me sketching close by and come and offer words of advice. he never sounded like the other adults, though. He spoke as an artist, of shadow and light, colour and perspective, and he expected me to understand.
Strawberry Girl by Hans Olaf Heyerdahl (1857-1913)
1887, oil on canvas, private collection

What makes Lisa Stromme's novel, 'The Strawberry Girl' different from other artist and muse love stories is the fact that the story is told through nature, the beauty of nature and through paintings itself. Narrated from protagonist, Johanne Lien's perspective is a young girl growing up in Norway during the late nineteenth-century whose poor family lives near painter Edvard Munch. When she was younger, still a child, running around the town in a dress with flowing blonde ringlets he painted her holding a bowl of strawberries. She was therefore called The Strawberry Girl by friends and neighbors. She and Munch had an artistic almost altruistic connection in nature. She loved to draw, sketch and eventually paint. It was her only real creative freedom. As their friendship grew, he tried to develop her innate talent. 

Of course, around the village, he lived alone, he drank, whether or not he kept the company of 'loose' women was topic of every nosey neighbor. He was thought to be 'mad' and people shunned him. As a teenager, Johanne's mother gets her a job working as a maid in a wealthy family in a nearby village where she becomes friends with Tullik Ihlen; a wild girl!  Everything would change when out walking one day these two young girls meet up with Munch. A friendship develops between all three with an obvious attraction between Munch and Tullik. Who was to know that once Tullik's family found out, everything would change. As their relationship grew, many lives would be emotionally destroyed. 

What I really enjoyed about, ' The Strawberry Girl' was how creatively Lisa Stromme used several of Edvard Munch's now famous paintings to depict and represent various stages in both the friendship between Johanne and Munch and the affair between Tullik and Munch. Juxtaposed against Munch's paintings Lisa Stromme uses quotations from Theory of Colours by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to solidify both girl's feelings.

This is not your typical artist and muse love story filled with assignations in stuffy studios or an unrequited love story. Actually, The Strawberry Girl demonstrates how a young girl's infatuation can lead to devastating inner demons just by an older man's attention. Secrets abound in this tale; some based upon events in Edvard Munch's life and some let's say were embellished a bit!  There is a very interesting Epilogue and Afteword where Lisa Stromme clarifies fact from fiction.  

This debut novel, 'The Strawberry Girl' is beautifully written and I was captured by how the author used nature and art infused with loneliness and attraction. Nineteenth-century religious beliefs and ideology in the Norwegian culture is mentioned throughout but not heavily. Tullik is not the only girl struggling with a love affair. Johanne has a love interest herself and I liked Thomas quite a lot.
The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893

Tullik screamed on. Throat rasping. Convulsing. Tiny, whimpering pleas repeating his name:  Edvard, Edvard, Edvard. The brutality of it repulsed me. Like an animal at the slaughter. She raged forward, charging at some imaginary evil, the beast that had stolen her soul. Then howling.  I thought it would never end. She shook and writhed with wretched desperation. All the fire of her soul blazed livid as the scream that possessed her, tortured her, erupted into being. Waves of sound. Piercing and sick. Jagged blades and serrated edges. Savage. Ferocious Barbarous and insane. 

When it finally began to recede, Tullik slumped to her knees devoid of energy...

 The Strawberry Girl by Lisa Stromme is due for U.S. publication in July of this year. It may be diffficult to pre-order in the U.S. 

Out now throughout Europe and the United Kingdom. To purchase a copy, Amazon UK

Comments

Pamela Britley said…
Hi Kimberly,

I just purchased the book and I am so excited to read it! I love the sound of it.
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Pamela,

Wonderful! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.