Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Lost Carousel of Provence

Title:  The Lost Carousel of Provence
Author:  Juliet Blackwell
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2018. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0451490630 / 978-0451490636

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "No one has seen."

Favorite Quote:  "I'm every bit as stubborn as you are, and because I'm a lot older I'm a lot more experienced at it. So don't even try to out-obstinate me."

An heirloom object sends a young woman on a search. The history of the heirloom is revealed in parallel with stories of the past. In the first Juliet Blackwell book I read, Letters from Paris, the object was a shattered mask, and the journey led to Paris. In this book, the object is a wooden rabbit. The journey leads France again, but this time ultimately to a carousel at a private home in Avignon, France.

The unusual historical context of the book, as the title suggests, is carousels and in particular, the art of carving carousel animals. I have seen and admired many carousels but never really thought about what goes into their creation. This book presents vivid detail and imagery of this art form, which then sent me off to read the actual history. The history leads to the art of Gustave Bayol, who lived at the turn of the century and is reputed to be one of the most important fairground carvers in Europe. His pieces are still considered collector's items.

The animal that begins this story is a rabbit owned by Cady Drake. She does not know its provenance or its secrets, just that it has been passed down to her and that it's special. Losses in her life sent her searching for a different direction. She is a photographer, and a photography project becomes her salvation. She is off to France to photograph a book of antique carousels and perhaps discover the history of her own heirloom.

The book now begins to travel back and forth from present day, to the Chateua Clement in Avignon, The House of Bayol in Angers, to Califronia, to Paris, and then around again. Each time period adds a layer to the story and to the history of Cady's rabbit.

Ultimately, The Lost Carousel of Provence is a story of family. Cady is an orphan who grew up in the foster care system. She has never had a family but has found people who became family. Josephine is a young wife. Maelle is driven by her passion for carving over all other relationships. Fabrice is a recluse estranged from his family. Through these characters, this book is also a story of loneliness and of wanting to belong.

The book is a slow start, as it takes a while to get to know the different characters, distinguish between the time periods, and settle into the story of each time. The secrets of the book are also clear much before they are actually revealed in the story.

As is common in books set in different time periods, one story takes the lead. For me in this book, it is Cady's character and story. Most of all though, I enjoyed this book for the introducing me to the history of carousels and giving me a whole new appreciation for artistry that goes into them.

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

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