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Summary and book reviews of Costalegre by Courtney Maum

Costalegre

by Courtney Maum

Costalegre by Courtney Maum X
Costalegre by Courtney Maum
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jul 2019, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2020, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Dean Muscat
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About this Book

Book Summary

Sinuous and striking, heartbreaking and strange, Costalegre is heavily inspired by the real-life relationship between the heiress Peggy Guggenheim and her daughter, Pegeen. Acclaimed author Courtney Maum triumphs with this wildly imaginative and curiously touching story of a privileged teenager who has everything a girl could wish for except for a mother who loves her back.

It is 1937, and Europe is on the brink of war. In the haute-bohemian circles of Austria, Germany, and Paris, Hitler is circulating a most-wanted list of "cultural degenerates"―artists, writers, and thinkers whose work is deemed antithetical to the new regime.  To prevent the destruction of her favorite art (and artists), the impetuous American heiress and modern art collector, Leonora Calaway, begins chartering boats and planes for an elite group of surrealists to Costalegre, a mysterious resort in the Mexican jungle, where she has a home. 

The story of what happens to these artists when they reach their destination is told from the point of view of Lara, Leonora's neglected 15-year-old daughter, who has been pulled out of school to follow her mother to Mexico. Forced from a young age to cohabit with her mother's eccentric whims, tortured lovers, and entourage of gold-diggers, Lara suffers from emotional, educational, and geographical instability that a Mexican sojourn with surrealists isn't going to help. But when she meets the outcast Dadaist sculptor Jack Klinger, a much older man who has already been living in Costalegre for some time, Lara thinks she might have found the love and understanding she so badly craves. 

Lunes

Nothing good can come from lunch. This is one of mother's sayings, but Jack could only come for lunch, and men can't fish at night. So everyone assembled at two thirty, pulled from work, or hate.

We were back to stagnancy. The heat, as yet unbroken; the news, no news; the rain that teased to fall at any time, and then (truly teasing) didn't.

Over the weekend, another horse gone from the stables. At night there are dark sounds, like a kind of heaving. Not neighs or whimpers, these are the cries of animals who are going to escape.

When Jack arrived for luncheon, even his own horse was like something tracked. Ears pinned, his bead eyes wide. Nostrils huge and desperate. No good can come at day. Konrad found out that mother saw the painting and had been complimenting him to everyone. Boasting that he'd "returned." As a punishment, he has stopped working, or he has been unable to. He said he took a knife to the canvas, but I don't think he did. A knife to mother is more likely, now ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The plot is pretty spare but its form is endlessly inventive. Maum imbues Lara's diary vignettes with postmodern stylings, offering insight into her young protagonist's mindset. Through this bricolage we become intimate with all of Lara: her intelligence, artistry, perceptiveness, naivety, hopes and insecurities. Costalegre is a dazzling read that deftly questions the modern world's blind obsession with the cult of the artist...continued

Full Review (676 words).

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(Reviewed by Dean Muscat).

Media Reviews

Ploughshares
With both humor and criticality, Maum’s coming-of-age novel probes the hypocrisy of the art world, the challenges of being a child of artists, and the dangers of not being loved.

Washington Post
If anything can be taut and lush at once, Maum’s novel fits the bill.

Minneapolis Star Tribune
Maum’s coming-of-age novel among some of Europe’s elite is heartbreaking in its evocation of a teenage girl whose mother collects artists to save but who ignores the daughter struggling not to drown. Maum captures the language and the intense flux of adolescent lability. She does it so well that readers may feel they’ve intruded on something private.

Booklist
A brilliantly arch and haunting novel of privilege and deprivation.

Library Journal
Inspired by Peggy Guggenheim and her daughter, Pegeen, this mother-daughter dysfunctional relationship is beautifully explored by Maum in a soul-searching, atmospheric novel set in a hot, humid climate as torrid as the affairs of the characters who inhabit it.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[A] rich and delectable tale of art, love, and war...The highlight is Lara, whose searching intelligence and insightful observations anchor the story. This is a fascinating, lively, and exquisitely crafted novel.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A lush chronicle of wealth, art, adventure, loneliness, love, and folly told by a narrator you won't be able to forget.

Author Blurb R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries
Mesmerizing and unsettling, Costalegre is a wonder, and Courtney Maum shows herself once again to be a writer of many gifts. This is a book for anyone who's ever loved, and not felt sufficiently loved in return; and for anyone who's had to try to grow up; for, that is, everyone.

Author Blurb Samantha Hunt, author of The Dark Dark
Here is war and here is art. And here is a child trying to become an adult in the midst of a Mexican exile. Maum's stirred a brew of careless Bohemians, Führers and failed art students, negligent mothers and missing museums. Costalegre is as heady, delirious and heartbreaking as a young girl just beginning to fall in love with our world.

Author Blurb Julie Buntin, author of Marlena
Courtney Maum's Costalegre is a marvel--so lively, intimate, and strange you don't read so much as dream the voice and visions of Lara, our 15-year-old narrator writing from a house full of surrealists in Mexico, as they wait out WWII. This is an unforgettable book, by a writer who proves on these pages that she can do anything.

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Beyond the Book

The Life and Art of Pegeen Guggenheim

Black and white pictures of Pegeen Guggenheim painting and posing at an art exhibitionCostalegre's main protagonist Lara Calaway is based on real-life artist Pegeen Vail Guggenheim (1925-1967), daughter of wealthy New York art collector and socialite Peggy Guggenheim (1898–1979). In her afterword, author Courtney Maum leaves a dedication to the not widely known artist: "Pegeen: Your story wasn't told much. I hope you forgive me for giving it a try." Given the notoriety of her mother, her illustrious peers as well as her notable body of work, it's strange that Pegeen is little more than a footnote in the world of modern art.

Born in 1925 in Switzerland, Pegeen was Peggy's second child with her first husband Laurence Vail. She spent much of her childhood living between France and England, and her mother was rarely ...

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