Saturday, July 20, 2013

Belle Epoque? Oh La La!!!

Book:  Belle Epoque
Author:  Elizabeth Ross
Date:  Available now
Publisher:  Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Source:  Publisher via Edelweiss
My grade:  A-

When Maude Pichon runs away from provincial Brittany to Paris, her romantic dreams vanish as quickly as her savings. Desperate for work, she answers an unusual ad. The Durandeau Agency provides its clients with a unique service—the beauty foil. Hire a plain friend and become instantly more attractive.

Monsieur Durandeau has made a fortune from wealthy socialites, and when the Countess Dubern needs a companion for her headstrong daughter, Isabelle, Maude is deemed the perfect foil.

But Isabelle has no idea her new "friend" is the hired help, and Maude's very existence among the aristocracy hinges on her keeping the truth a secret. Yet the more she learns about Isabelle, the more her loyalty is tested. And the longer her deception continues, the more she has to lose. (Description and cover from

Initial Reaction
Is it really so hard to give me some closure, people??????

Cover Story
It’s a pretty cover, but I’m not so sure it really reflects the novel. I mean, Maude is supposed to be not so pretty.   There’s another cover on the Goodreads page that I like better.  It has a girl in a dress with the Eiffel Tower, which is also an important element in the book.  I like it better.  Of course, I love the title and that’s what attracted me to the book.

What’s the Story?
This is a retelling of a short story by Émile Zola called “Les Repoussoirs”.  I’ve never read the original, but now I’m going to google it and see if I can find it somewhere.  Come to think of it, we never read any Zola in my French lit classes.  How is that possible?

Anyway, Maude is the protagonist and I liked her a lot.  Girlfriend has some gumption!  She took off from her small village so she didn’t have to marry the gross old butcher and she ran away to Paris!  She tries her hand at several jobs and eventually realizes that this repoussoir job is just better since she’ll make more money and really do less work.  Now, a repoussoir, in English that would be a “repulser”, is an unattractive girl who is hired by a socialite to accompany her to events so that she looks prettier.  At first, Maude was horrified by the idea, but she eventually gets used to it.

This is an interesting book because it looks at how Maude has to navigate 2 lives:  her real life and her socialite life.  It made me very nervous and anxious because I was always afraid that the 2 lives were going to overlap and there were some places where that happened and caused some misunderstandings. 

The characters in this book were just fabulous.  Now, that doesn’t mean that they were all nice, but they were all interesting, even the most wicked ones!  Isabelle’s mother was one of the worst, but I was constantly waiting for her to drop the next ax.  I really grew to love Isabelle and in many ways, I liked her more than I liked Maude.  My favorite character by far, though, was Marie-Josée.  I felt both proud of her and sympathetic for her.  She may not have been the most beautiful person on the outside, but she was one of the most beautiful people in the novel because she was so lovely on the inside.

Which is sort of the point of the novel, right?  French literature is full of these social commentaries and even though I haven’t read it, I’m sure Zola’s original story is no exception.  This little glimpse into the lives of these girls who are willing to take a job as an ugly foil in order to get by speaks volumes about Zola’s position on rich society.  As a reader, I grew to love the repoussoir girls and loathe most of the society people.

As a Francophile, I loved this book.  The descriptions of Paris are spot on and it was fun to have the building of the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop to the whole thing.  The juxtaposition of modern progress versus the stagnation of the upper classes was a perfect storyline for this backdrop of turn-of-the-century Paris.  I loved all the descriptions of Paris and could imagine myself right there in the streets, eating crepes with Maude and Marie-Josée!

The only complaint I have with this novel is the ending.  I know that authors don’t want to suffer from Breaking Dawn Syndrome and have everyone live happily ever after, but there was NO closure for me at all.  It felt like the novel just sort of…… stopped.  And let’s face it; I knew that Maude was not going to meet some wonderful society gentleman who would her station in life to marry her and make all her dreams come true, but I would like to know a little bit more about what eventually happened to her.  ::sighs::  I suppose I’ll just have to write my own closure chapter.

The Soundtrack

À Paris by Yves Montand

Aux Champs-Élysées by Joe Dassin

Cœur de Parisienne by Rufus Wainwright

I Love Paris by Les Negresses Vertes

The Shadows of Paris by Elsie Bianchi

La Romance de Paris by Charles Trenet

Sous le Ciel de Paris by Edith Piaf

The Final Grade
My final grade for this one is an A-.  It lost some points for the non-ending ending, but otherwise, this book was très magnifique!!  Run read it and then get busy planning your trip to Paris!  Or at least cooking some crepes in your kitchen……

I received this copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.  I received no compensation, financial or otherwise, for this review.  Not even a Nutella crepe.

No comments:

Post a Comment