by Eleanor Brown
This is a story of two women, each of whom discover Paris in their own way. We first meet Madeleine in 1999. She is drawn to art and loves to paint, but her family circumstances place her as a corporate wife to the sort of very controlling husband who makes a woman dream of being single and free to wear what she wants, eat what she wants, and spend her time painting instead of schmoozing with the wives of business contacts with whom she has nothing in common.
Madeleine finds her grandmother’s diary and reads about Margie in Jazz age Paris, 1916. Margie lives in a time and culture where young women debut when they reach marriageable age and expect to find a well-to-do husband and have children. But Margie is having none of it, she wants to be a writer and live a Bohemian lifestyle. Her first encounter with a man her parents approve of, what might be called a rich wastrel, gives her a push in the direction of an unconventional life ahead.
I was struck by the writing in this and how eloquently the personalities involved were portrayed, from Madeleine herself down to the peripheral characters. Each of them came alive in just a few paragraphs of lyrical prose and made their indelible stamp on the story.
Madeleine and her grandmother had much in common. Both were born into ‘society’ families that had expectations of how young women thought and behaved, both had artistic urges that made then want to break out of the molds created for them and both were given the chance to sample what life might be like if they rebelled against the ‘expectations’ thrust upon them.
I could appreciate how difficult it was for each of them to break loose from the training of their lives, of family expectations and all that they knew to try to enjoy something of life beyond the prescribed formula for their social strata. More interesting still was experiencing Paris through the eyes of Margie, the grandmother, and wondering if she would find a way to maintain her newly discovered freedom.
The book kept me interested and wanting to know the fate of each of the women and what choices they would make for their lives, given the limitations thrust upon them. The end didn’t disappoint, though I would have liked to see how Madeleine fared in Paris.
Definitely one of my best reads this month.