"The Light of Paris" Eleanor Brown
This is a really pleasing read following the two lives of Margie and Madeleine, grandmother and grand-daughter, on their journeys of self discovery- decades apart, but full of similarities.
Margie's story is set in 1924. Unhappily confined by the expectations of her parents and society, she finds herself trying to reject the inevitable path of marriage and submissiveness that lies ahead. Taking the opportunity to travel to Paris as a companion to another debutant, Margie then finds herself inspired, awakened and empowered by the people and city. But can it last or will she eventually have to return to "real life" and all it's constraints?
Madeleine's story is set in 1999 (although it sometimes feels more like the 1950s!) and sees her returning to her mother's house to contemplate the unhappiness and the restrictions she feels marriage and society have imposed upon her; suffocating her real desire to paint and carve her own path out for herself.
Both stories are about self discovery and the role of women in society. When Madeleine stumbles across her grandmother's diary, she is fascinated to read of her time in Paris and all the artistic and interesting people she meets. What she is not prepared for is the secret that she unwittingly discovers as she learns more about her grandmother's time there. It helps her to consider her own position in life and within her marriage. Can it give her the confidence to make decisions and changes that were beyond her grandmother?
I thought this story was beautifully written. It was compelling and the alternating story lines were full of interesting similarities and overlaps despite their distance in time and location. It is a reflective book and very pensive in its style but both the main female protagonists are vivid and very easy to form a relationship with. They are both engaging and relatable.
Margie feels like a woman before her time. Her mother is obsessed with her marriage and Margie is very bored with being a constant disappointment or a doll that won't perform.
"Margie crossed her eyes. There was going to be no husband. She knew it, and she guessed her mother knew it, and only said things like that to keep the fiction alive, for whose benefit she wasn't sure."
It feels very Austen -like at times; it is the 1920s and yet Margie is totally defined by her marriageability and how she is regarded within their class of society. Her mother has nothing else to really do but negotiate a match. Indeed, Mr Chapman's proposal is similar to that of the dreadful Mr Collins in "Pride and Prejudice". He begins with "I'm sure you're aware of how closely your father and I work together," then continues with the very pragmatic "it is an alliance I wish to preserve at any cost." Margie's response - as it so often does - made me giggle: "Margie wished there were a nearby plate of potatoes she could put her face in." She knows little of what her father does, (interesting historical comment on how some men still persisted in refraining from involving women with business and finances) only that he has something to do with the Washington Senators - a basketball team - but she's never allowed to go to the games as " 'The obligations of someone of your class' apparently didn't include eating peanuts, or doing anything fun, for that matter." Mr Chapman then tells her that he'd "like to cement that relationship by marrying (her)". So romantic! Any reader is going to find it hard not to sympathise with her plight. Margie's dry, sarcastic reactions - whether only unspoken or not - bring a lot of gentle humour to the novel and make her a very appealing young woman. It reflects her intelligence and exaggerates the importance of her trying to escape such a restrictive future.
Madeleine too is insightful, resourceful, bright and talented. She is very creative and her link with art is an important part of her characterisation. She is very similar to Margie. For Madeleine there are times when it feels that despite the progress made in Women's Rights, things are still complicated for women. And Margie's voice often felt as contemporary as a woman speaking in the 1990s. Both are very authentic and I was as intrigued with each story line. The alternating order of the tales encourages the reader to keep turning the page. The final twist, although creating a great ending and a necessary part of the plot, wasn't the thing that really struck me or kept me wanting to read more; I just wanted to know what happened to them both. I was part of their emotional journey of self awareness.
The chapters are relatively short and the plot is well controlled. I liked the author's use of language and found the description effective and at times, beautiful. The setting of Paris is really captivating and I would recommend the book to people who are interested in this period in time or Paris as it is a big part of the novel.
Overall, this is a thoughtful and interesting story of two women in two different times as they learn about love, duty, ambition and fate. I would strongly recommend you take a look!
My thanks to NetGalley for an advanced copy in return for a fair and honest review. For more recommendations and reviews please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacUK) or sign up to receive future posts via email.