Author: Lewis Crofts
Why: Wandering around Wandsworth Library I happened upon the title and couldn’t resist borrowing the book.
The Pornographer of Vienna tells the life story of Egon Schiele, the infamous Austrian painter famed for his sexually explicit portraits of the underbelly of Viennese life in the dying years of the Habsburg empire. The book recounts how Schiele is persecuted by his family, imprisoned by the Habsburg authorities and forced into poverty by an unappreciative art world. Schiele finally finds acclaim with those who had earlier shunned him, before dying tragically a few days short of the end of the Great War. This novel inspired by Schiele’s twisted and perverse life charts the ascent and demise of Austria’s most decadent and most misunderstood painter.
I loved the first half of this book. The beautiful yet shocking turn of phrase, the scent of debauchery and incest all centred around the tortured soul of the artiste Schiele was entertaining and insightful beyond expectation. Unfortunately, the message never changes and the actions of Schiele and his orbiting family and friends becomes rather mundane as you become numb to his predilections and behaviours.
Women are represented in a variety of interesting and detailed ways. There is Valerie, first the artist Klimt’s muse before she transfers to Egon, was someone I really enjoyed watching develop. Her loyalty and determination is admirable and is poignantly contradicted by her relative worth to either painter. Egon’s mother, Marie who is a staple throughout regardless of her descent into the hands of syphilis and his sister Georgi who he can never own – not to mention the countless young girls whose youth and innocence entrance and capture Egon’is imagination.
The book itself is – quite obviously – based on the very real Austrian painter, Egon Schiele, who was recognised as a young hedonist who produced unacceptably – for the time- provocative sexual paintings and drawings. These aspects were illuminating and made me want to seek out more information and examples of his work and the styles of the period.
I found the historical context including both society’s acceptance and norms as well as the interpretations of the Austro Hungarian Empire to be insightful and unflinching. However, again it was the artist himself that I found myself berating – not to mention the author – as to why the story was dragged out for so long and the cycles of activity remaining the same with only the location – countryside or city – changing with the pages.
Overall I enjoyed the book it was remarkably well written and some of Crofts descriptions on humanity were breathtakingly astute however, part of me wishes this had been a novella rather than a full-blown novel.
Rating: 7 out of 10