The young Mary Cassatt never thought moving to Paris after the Civil War was going to be easy, but when, after a decade of work, her submission to the Paris Salon is rejected, Mary's fierce determination wavers. Her father is imploring her to return to Philadelphia to find a husband before it is too late, her sister Lydia is falling mysteriously ill, and worse, Mary is beginning to doubt herself. Then one evening a friend introduces her to Edgar Degas and her life changes forever. Years later she will learn that he had begged the introduction, but in that moment their meeting seems a miracle. So begins the defining period of her life and the most tempestuous of relationships.
In I Always Loved You, Robin Oliveira brilliantly re-creates the irresistible world of Belle Époque Paris, writing with grace and uncommon insight into the passion and foibles of the human heart.
"Oliveira follows her best-selling historical fiction debut, My Name Is Mary Sutter (2010), with a novel based on the life of the 'formidable' American painter Mary Cassatt. Cassatt insists on living in Paris among the impressionists, so her concerned parents and loving sister join her there and are soon baffled by Cassatt's tempestuous interactions with her mercurial mentor, Edgar Degas. The true nature of their relationship remains open to interpretation, an opportunity Oliveira seizes with passionate and electrifying empathy for both artists. As she vividly renders 1870s Paris and its gossipy enclave of radical artists, including the painfully entangled Berthe Morisot and Édouard Manet (who is suffering horribly from syphilis), Oliveira contrasts irascible Degas and his freedom to go anywhere his omnivorous eye leads him (even as his eyesight fails) and steely Cassatt, who as a woman is forced to find inspiration in domesticity, painting incisive portraits of mothers and children as she forgoes marriage and motherhood. Emulating the powers of observation and expression possessed by the artists she so vividly and sensitively fictionalizes, Oliveira illuminates with piercing insight the churning psyches of her living-on-the-edge characters. This is a historically and aesthetically rich, complexly involving, and forthrightly sorrowful novel of the perilous, exhilarating, and world-changing lives of visionary artists breaking new ground and each other's hearts."
—Booklist, starred review
"Oliveira perfectly evokes the era's beauty and art in I Always Loved You, but don't be fooled by this somewhat generic title. (You'll understand its meaning by book's end.) There's nothing bland about the novel's painterly prose or storyline. The novelist's illuminating portrayals of the inner lives of artists—Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Berthe Morisot and Édouard Manet—are beautifully colored and as richly detailed as the paintings for which they are celebrated."
"In her absorbing second novel ("My Name Is Mary Sutter" came out in 2010), Oliveira boldly risks using these well-known historical figures as characters in pursuit of artistic lives not at all assured of fame or fortune. In smart and supple prose that eschews melodrama and wears its research lightly, Oliveira shows a deep understanding of art history and artistic process, and of Paris in the 1870s... ...Oliveira's lively work illuminates these ambitious artists and rings true in the way that the best fiction can. She captures the essence of working one's art without promise of glory, and reading her work is transporting."
"I Always Loved You is a beautifully composed—and extensively researched—blend of art history, vintage travelogue and good storytelling."
—The Dallas Morning News
"A tense romance...An imaginative yet faithful story of what might have been."
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
"What a joy it is to be back in Belle Époque Paris with my old artist friends, guided by the masterful pen of Robin Oliveira whose finely crafted language brings to light the complicated relationships of four of the principals of the Impressionist movement—Cassatt, Degas, Manet, Morisot. Only an omniscient narrator has the latitude to disclose the private yearnings and fears of these four as they grapple with issues of art execution, scathing reviews, self-doubt, elusive fame, tempestuous love, and creeping mortality. Here, in beautiful prose, juicy with nuance and depth, is the intimate, heart-wrenching story behind Impressionist art history, with Mary Cassatt at its center. A glorious achievement."
—Susan Vreeland, author of Luncheon of the Boating Party
"I Always Loved You is a marvelous work, enthralling, illuminating, and beautifully rendered. Robin Oliveira brings Belle Époque Paris and the fascinating artists and writers who walked its streets and filled its salons to the fullness of vivid, fiercely passionate life."
—Jennifer Chiaverini, author of Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker and The Spymistress
"Oliveira's breathtaking, cinematic novel transported me to late-nineteenth-century Paris, to lively salons and cafes, and to the refuge of the studio. There, each day, Mary Cassatt struggled to silence family obligation, doubt, set-backs, and longings, so that she could take up her brush and create. This story reveals what it means to be an artist who is also a woman, and you will feel both the anguish and the triumph down in your bones."
—Kelly O'Connor McNees, author of In Need of a Good Wife and The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott
"In artfully crafted prose as penetrating and radiant as an Impressionist masterpiece, Robin Oliveira’s moving portrait of Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas is a poignant reminder that beneath the majestic sweep of history and ideas are men and women with yearnings and trepidations as urgent and palpable as our own. I Always Loved You evokes, in brilliant detail, the nuances of culture, art, and society in the cafés and salons of late-nineteenth-century Paris while bringing to life the spellbinding whirl of artists, writers, and savants who made La Belle Époque legendary."
—John Pipkin, author of Woodsburner
Viking, hardcover, February 2014, ISBN: 9780670785797
Penguin, paperback, March 2015, ISBN: 9780143126102