Monday, July 11, 2016

The Light of Paris

Title:  The Light of Paris
Author:  Eleanor Brown
Publication Information:  G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2016. 320 pages.
ISBN:  039915891X / 978-0399158919

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I didn't set out to lose myself."

Favorite Quote:  "... sometimes outright cruelty isn't necessary. Sometimes all it takes is a lifetime of disapproving glances, of disappointed sighs, of frustrated hopes."

1999. Madeleine comes from a Southern belle background and finds herself captive in a marriage based on business and on convenience rather than on love. She returns to her mother's home for a visit. In her mother's attic, she discovers her grandmother's journals. All she knows is that her grandmother was ... well ... her grandmother who died when Madeleine was one six. What she discovers is someone completely different - a woman with a story to tell and perhaps a lesson for Madeleine.

1919. Margaret does not fit the mold of the debutante circle and finds herself being pushed into a marriage because of her mother's fear that she may remain a spinster. She rebels. Her parent's response is to send her off on a European tour. Things don't go quite as planned, but Margaret finds herself in Paris, creating a life for herself and unwilling to go home. Margaret aka Margie becomes Marguerite.

The book goes back and forth between the stories of these two women as they struggle to find their own identity. Decades apart, the two women face somewhat the same issue. What role do family expectations and obligations play in our choices? If choices are based on those expectations, are they forced or are we still free to choose? How do you balance family expectations with your own dreams?

This book approaches this issue not only from Madeleine's and Margaret's perspective, but also from the perspective of some of the male characters in the book. The issue exists across genders and across time periods. That pull between the generations is a universal one; each character, however, finds their own unique path through it. It is this fact that gives the book its primary appeal. I find myself relating to these different pulls on our time, energy, and future, and perhaps, in one of the answers, seeing my own.

Mind you, this is a book about the wealthy. It's apparent in the fact that the answer to a young man or young woman wanting freedom in the 1920s is a European tour to play before coming home to settle down. In 1999, it's apparent in the fact that the decision to stay in or to leave a marriage becomes solely an emotional one without the added layer of financial survival. The emotional struggle is the same regardless of economics, but the economics certainly make the journey easier  for the characters but more difficult for the reader to relate to.

Of the two stories, I find Margaret's story the stronger one. Maybe, that is because of the time period. Maybe, it's because of the beautiful Paris setting. Maybe, it's Margaret herself. Of the two, she seems stronger. She strikes a more independent path, managing to create a life for herself. Maybe, it's because we know how Margaret's story ends. I find myself rushing through Madeleine's story to get back to Margaret.

Overall, though, the book is a quick and entertaining read, maybe even a beach read for the summer. It does, however, have enough substance to leave me reflecting on choices made and the paths not taken.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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