Review: Gastien Part 1: The Cost of the Dream
I love the stories of artists that overcome extreme adversity and realise their dreams and bring countless masterpieces to the world. Caddy Rowland’s Gastien tells one such story of an artist in nineteenth century France. This is the first in a series of books with two further parts available at the time of writing.
The novel tells the story of Gastien, who is raised on a farm by an abusive father and a loving mother. As the eldest child, Gastien is expected to take over the family business but he doesn’t have the heart or desire for the work. Instead Gastien is a born artist and wants to go to Paris to be not just a successful artist but also a great lover to as many women as possible. Monogamy and long-term relationships are not on Gastien’s agenda, it is all about art and sex but can he survive the gritty streets of Paris?
This is a long and eventful story written in a style that moves the story along at a good pace. Gastien’s background is not a pleasant one. As the eldest of many children, he is supposed to take the reins and run the farm after his father but Gastien wants only to paint. His father deems this transgression to be akin to homosexuality and Gastien takes his share of beatings before finally leaving home and seeking his fortune in Paris. There are contrasting fortunes for Gastien. He needs money for supplies, food and a home but the French capital is an unforgiving place for young artists. While many men Gastien’s age are in education, Gastien is on the streets with only his wits and good looks to get him by. The longer he is on the streets, the less he can rely on his looks. Gastien sinks extremely low many times in the book and some of the things he has to go through are unpleasant to read.
Improving day by day with his art, Gastien is disciplined with the craft but he is also full of hormones and has little trouble finding his way into the beds of many grateful women. Though Gastien is undoubtedly a great lover, his attitude to women often makes him unappealing. Gastien is happy to satisfy women, something his contemporaries neglect to do, but once the sex is over Gastien can quickly discard women without a second thought. He does, however, form one meaningful relationship with a woman but this young artist is not an easy one for women to tame. As Gastien’s fortunes improve he takes a position with a rich family, painting their portraits and having the mother and two daughters lusting after him in the process. This is in the latter stages of the book and Gastien’s journey reaches one of its most brutal moments. The fact he continues to chase his dream is admirable but does he make it?
I enjoyed Gastien and fully intend to read the other parts in the series. Gastien is an unusual protagonist in that sometimes you will feel for him, other times you may frown upon his treatment of women. The sacrifices he makes for his art are admirable and there are moments when you will wonder how much more suffering he has to endure or whether he will fulfil that long-term goal of having his own studio. The later books promise even further insight in Gastien’s story and I am looking forward to those.
Gastien is an emotional journey of a young man with a dream he is determined to achieve. Along the way, Gastien endures starvation, poverty and when things are going well he enjoys the many pleasures of the women in Paris. Not always a likable character, Gastien’s story is still worth following.
(Book source: reviewer received a copy in exchange for a fair and honest review)