The year is 1926, and American model Lee Miller has arrived in Paris. Leaving behind a successful career at Vogue, she’s ready to take her place behind the camera, rather than in front of it. After convincing surrealist Man Ray to take her on as his assistant, she begins her education, but soon finds herself slipping comfortably into the role of muse and lover. But with an ego like Man’s and a drive to succeed like Lee’s, lines must be drawn and a balance must be found – can Lee ever truly be happy with a love that comes at the cost of her own creativity?
The Age of Light is the first novel from author Whitney Scharer, and is a rich and engrossing account of a real life love story. Lee and Man Ray head up a cast of eccentric and brilliantly imagined characters, with Lee herself making for a particularly captivating lead.
From her slow beginnings in Paris, unsure of herself and her abilities, to the relationship that would change her world, to the war years that would define her career, Scharer’s Lee remains engaging and interesting. If it becomes frustrating to watch her disappear into Man’s shadow, it’s only because Scharer’s devoted development has us clamouring for more, not less, of this fascinating historical figure. This isn’t a stereotypical slip in an average romance novel, but an important turning point in the life of our lead – should she lose herself to be with the man she loves, or break away and risk starting all over again?
There’s artistic license taken, of course, and while its completely likely that Lee really did meet many of the fascinating people in Man’s circle, Scharer’s Paris doesn’t move much beyond the deliciously salacious and wildly creative image we’ve all seen many times before.
But, it’s when Scharer shifts to Lee’s war years that we really get a glimpse of the strength of both writer and subject, with compelling and emotive scenes that showcase myriad sides to the model turned war correspondent. Complex and fascinating, Scharer’s Lee Miller is at her most evocative in these short asides, more interesting posing in Hitler’s bathtub than in Man Ray’s bed.
In The Age of Light, you’ll come for the love story but stay for the lead. Well researched, beautifully imagined, and gorgeously detailed, dismiss this as an idealised Parisian romance at your peril.
Whitney Scharer’s The Age of Light is out now, published by Picador.