Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Letters from Paris

Title:  Letters from Paris
Author:  Juliet Blackwell
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2016. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0451473701 / 978-0451473707

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

Opening Sentence:  "He sleeps."

Favorite Quote:  ".. sometimes it's all right to live with mystery. To embrace the not knowing."

Letters from Paris is a romance based around a woman's search for herself, an old family keepsake, and two stories from the past. The woman is Claire "Chance" Broussard. Raised by her grandmother in Louisiana, Claire leaves to seek a different life. Her dissatisfaction with her life and her grandmother's illness brings her back to Louisiana. Enter the family keepsake. In a crate in the attic, Claire rediscovers an old shattered mask she remembers from the her childhood. Her grandmother dies before explaining the secret of the mask, leaving Claire with only a cryptic recommendation to seek the secret in Paris.

Claire, at a crossroads in her life, decides to go to Paris. Enter the stories from the past, both tied to Claire, both tied to Paris, and both tied to the history of the broken mask. One is the story from the 1800s of the woman whose face becomes the mask. The other story is of Claire's mother, whose car accident left Claire in the hands of an abusive father and then a loving grandmother. Of, with a setting of beautiful Paris and a main character of a young woman seeking something more from life, romance enters the picture.

The historical note in the book is the fact that the mask - L'Inconnue de la Seine or The Unknown Woman of the Seine - that is at the base of the book is real.  The myth goes that the young woman's body was pulled from the Seine after she drowned. It is unclear whether the death was an accident, a suicide, or something far more sinister. Those dealing with the body felt the face to be so beautiful that they had a cast mask made of her face prior to the burial of the body. Numerous masks were made and sold for this cast model. The young woman's face lives on long after she is gone. Fact or fiction? It really does not matter. Just an interesting tale often told.

The other historical note for me is the reference to Camille Claudel, her temperamental nature and her work. I read of her life in Rodin's Lover; I do love finding connections and overlapping characters between the books I read. It is interesting to see the same historical times and figures represented from different perspectives.

The setting is beautiful. The historical myth is intriguing. Out of the entire book, Sabine's story from the 1800s is perhaps the most interesting; hers is the story of survival - survival as a young woman alone in the city. Romance is part of her story, but the focus is survival. Claire's story ends up essentially a romance complete with a brooding hero.

Unfortunately, for me, all the connections in the book - between times, between characters, between places - are a little too perfectly aligned. The "unpredictable" turns are neither unpredictable nor shocking when they arrive. The turns in the story - all of which come near the end of the book - tie everything up in too neat a package. The connections seem contrived, particularly the story of Claire's childhood, and hence lose the feeling of reality that makes books resonate for me. Ultimately, that makes me not the right reader for this book.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment