Tuesday, July 12, 2016
The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown
Published July 2016 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, in exchange for an honest review
Madeleine is trapped—by her family's expectations, by her controlling husband, and by her own fears—in an unhappy marriage and a life she never wanted. From the outside, it looks like she has everything, but on the inside, she fears she has nothing that matters.
In Madeleine’s memories, her grandmother Margie is the kind of woman she should have been—elegant, reserved, perfect. But when Madeleine finds a diary detailing Margie’s bold, romantic trip to Jazz Age Paris, she meets the grandmother she never knew: a dreamer who defied her strict, staid family and spent an exhilarating summer writing in cafés, living on her own, and falling for a charismatic artist.
Despite her unhappiness, when Madeleine’s marriage is threatened, she panics, escaping to her hometown and staying with her critical, disapproving mother. In that unlikely place, shaken by the revelation of a long-hidden family secret and inspired by her grandmother’s bravery, Madeleine creates her own Parisian summer—reconnecting to her love of painting, cultivating a vibrant circle of creative friends, and finding a kindred spirit in a down-to-earth chef who reminds her to feed both her body and her heart.
Brown's dual narratives are maybe the most closely tied dual narratives I've ever read. Both women are being raised as society girl, with all the expectations and the baggage that includes - cotillions/debutante balls, the right clothes, the right hair, and marriage to the right men with babies following closely behind. Neither Madeleine nor Margie feels comfortable in that milieu and their mothers' disappoint weighs heavily on them. Both yearn to find the place where they fit in and to have the chance to express their creativity.
And that's where Brown takes the women down different paths.
Margie gets a reprieve, the chance to go to Europe where she becomes the butterfly who sheds her cocoon. She lives on her own, finds a job, hobnobs with the artistic community, writes prolifically, and falls in love.
Madeleine, on the other hand, so desperately wants to do the right thing that she marries a man far more in love with himself than he is with her, a man who quashes her dreams of being a painter and any self worth she had remaining. She is so miserable that she practically lives on antacids. So miserable that even time with her mother is preferable to time with her husband. Thanks to that time, she discovers her grandmother's journals and finds out the woman she knew growing hope once had hopes of a far different life.
I liked the historical narrative better (as I so often do). Paris comes alive as Margie becomes a part of it and I enjoyed "watching" Margie become a part of the city. Madeleine's narrative is the more predictable of the two. Brown tries to throw the reader off track periodically, but (and I don't think I'm giving anything away here), this is a happily ever after story and I never doubted the outcome. Still, I came to care about both of the women and enjoyed reading about how each of them came to terms with the societies they were raised in.
There were no real surprises in The Light of Paris but somehow that was exactly what I needed right now - a book about women struggling to find themselves against society's expectations that turns out exactly the way I expected it would. And that was just fine with me.
*I had some lovely passages to share with you but I forgot to get them copied before my license to view the book expired. -insert sad emoji here_