Phoebe and the Ghost of Chagall by Jill Koenigsdorf

Divorced and having just turned forty, Phoebe has begun to feel jaded, wasting her artistic potential designing bottle labels for a winery in California, but when the ghost of twentieth-century artist Marc Chagall appears to her and influences her paintings, a fantastical new adventure begins. Chagall convinces Phoebe to take a vacation in Paris, where one of his long-lost paintings is being delivered to an art collector by a thief. There, Phoebe meets a handsome businessman named Ray, two playful sister witches, and the old woman who had stumbled upon the missing painting during World War II. At times Charlie Chaplain-esque in its humor and action and at other times melancholy in its portrayal of the loneliness and solitude of artists and their art, Phoebe and the Ghost of Chagall is an intriguing and original, yet predictable read.

Multiple characters introduced quite early in the book may befuddle the reader, but the plot soon smooths out after a few chapters; however, though every characters’ motivation is apparent and personality consistent, there are far too many characters for the reader to grow fond of any one in particular. It may be easy to root for protagonist Phoebe to get the painting away from the art thief, to end up with Ray, and to return to her art career, but the roles of the sister witches and of the pivotal old woman, Bernadette, are not quite fully realized until close to the end of the novel. The purpose of the witches’ powers is not apparent and even Chagall himself, in ghost form, serves mostly as a deus ex machine for Phoebe; overall, the supernatural elements do not add much to the story.

The strength of this novel, though, is in Koenigsdorf’s writing style. She provides a rich atmosphere of Phoebe’s garden and summertime Paris, and the dialogue brings great personality to many of the characters. This is a fun read for fans of contemporary novels, especially those who enjoy subtle supernatural, mystery, and romantic elements.