Sunday, November 27, 2016

To Capture What We Cannot Keep

Title:  To Capture What We Cannot Keep
Author:  Beatrice Colin
Publication Information:  Flatiron Books. 2016. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1250071445 / 978-1250071446

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

Opening Sentence:  "The sand on the Champ de mars was powdered with snow."

Favorite Quote:  "Were beautiful things more beautiful when you couldn't keep them."

Caitriona "Cait" Wallace is an impoverished widow who takes a job as a chaperone to brother and sister Jamie and Alice Arrol. Their uncles sends them on a European tour to get some "culture." Their wanderings around Europe of course bring them to Paris. The year is 1886. The story in Paris is the construction of giant metal tower, expected to be completed for the World's Fair. Some call it a coming monstrosity. Some argue its dangers to the surrounding neighborhoods. Some question the judgment of those who work on the project. Today, we call it the Eiffel Tower.

A chance encounter in a hot air balloon introduces Cait to Émile Nouguier, an engineer working of Gustave Eiffel's tower. She is poor, Scottish, and a widow. He is the son of an affluent French family, in line to inherit the family business. Their worlds couldn't be more different. Yet, they are pulled together.

Surrounding them are a cast of characters with their own stories. Gabrielle is an artist's wife but Émile's mistress with all the complications that brings. Jamie Arrol is young, selfish, and irresponsible. Alice Arrol is young and naive; she wants only to be admired and to find an eligible husband. Émile's mother has dreams for her son which differ from his own. Alice has admirers, or so she thinks. Cait has admirers, and many who think that, as a widow, she should settle for whatever is offered.

The individual characters and their stories don't really grab my attention in this book. Some of the events seems implausible. Too many connections are left completely unexplained or unexplained until too late in the book. Why is Émile with Gabrielle? Why is Gabrielle with him? How does Jamie Arrol's relationship begin and progress? Why is a lovely young woman like Alice so unsure of her prospects at a time when physical beauty seems to be the a determining factor in the eligibility of a young lady? What else lies in Cait's past other than losing her husband in an accident?

The ending in particular seems to come out of nowhere. No link exists between the story told throughout the book to the revelations towards the end and then the ending itself. I won't give a spoiler, but to me, that ending truly seems to not belong with the rest of the book.

What gives this story its substance is the historical time and place. Paris in the 1800s is a time of class structure and of strict societal rules; it is also a time for the subversive breaking of those rules in affairs and brothels. The importance is to maintain appearances. The artist's community and the rise of impressionism also finds its way into this book. All of it is set against the construction of the Eiffel Tower, the so-called metal monstrosity that is now the symbol of the city. The details of the design and construction, down to the number of steps and the number of rivets is fascinating. It is this history I will remember from this book not the character or the story.

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

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