The Last Summer of the World

3QD friend Emily Mitchell‘s debut novel has just been published. This is the description from Publisher’s Weekly:

E_mitchellFirst-time novelist Mitchell pulls off the dazzling trick of allowing readers to see through the eyes of art-photography pioneer Edward Steichen in her excellent reconsideration of his life and art. This would be merely impressive if the book confined itself to the stormy end of Steichen’s first marriage, a subtheme that gets its due and packs a psychological punch. Instead, Mitchell follows Steichen through his airborne reconnaissance work during WWI, providing a devastating portrait of the insanity of war in general and the Great War in particular. Throughout, individual photographs are described in detail, along with surprisingly rich narratives—some reconstructed, some imagined—filling in the stories behind the pictures. Most powerful are the descriptions of what Steichen saw from the air, such as his view of Americans chasing a group of Germans and killing them all, including one who tried to escape. The book offers up glimpses of Paris and the French countryside, including memorable scenes of Steichen’s visit to his good friend and mentor, sculptor August Rodin, but in the end, this commanding novel is about the images one can never quite burn from memory.

This is Donna Seaman of Booklist:

Screenhunter_01_jun_11_0102Photographer Edward Steichen, cosmopolitan and controversial, is an excellent subject for historical fiction. But debut novelist Mitchell chose not to reimagine Steichen’s glamorous career as a portrait and fashion photographer. Rather, she zeroes in on Steichen’s life-altering service during World War I. Responsible for aerial reconnaissance, Steichen and his men are in the line of fire as they fly over German troops, and Mitchell vividly imagines the terror of these historic dogfights. Her Steichen is also fighting a private ground war with his wife, Clara, as she seeks revenge for Steichen’s alleged affair with her former best friend. Mitchell uses Steichen’s moody art photographs as stepping-stones between scenes of military suspense and tragedy and the heartbreak of a disastrous marriage. Forced to sacrifice her musical career to fulfill her duties as mother and wife to an artist more ruthless in his devotion to his work than she, Clara is a profoundly poignant figure. And Steichen is no villain. Enriching her intensely psychological tale with cameos of Auguste Rodin and others. Mitchell evokes the spell of creativity and the pain of rupture when following one’s vision severely complicates relationships.

And W. W. Norton’s site has this to say:

An absorbing debut novel about the photograher Edward Steichen’s wartime return to France and his reckoning with his painful past…

Told with the elegance of Michael Cunningham’s The Hours and the historical rendering of Colm Tóibín’s The Master, The Last Summer of the World captures the life and heart of a great photographer and of a world beset by war.

Congratulations to Emily from all at 3QD, (and also for her engagement to former 3QD editor, and current occasional contributor, J. M. Tyree)!

Buy the novel here.