Wednesday, 7 December 2016

To Capture What We Cannot Keep

Author: Beatrice Colin
Genre: Historical Fiction (France)
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 304
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Flatiron Books
First Published: November 29, 2016
First Line: "February 1886 - The sand on the Champ de Mars was powdered with snow."

Book Description from GoodReadsSet against the construction of the Eiffel Tower, this novel charts the relationship between a young Scottish widow and a French engineer who, despite constraints of class and wealth, fall in love.

In February 1887, Caitriona Wallace and Émile Nouguier meet in a hot air balloon, floating high above Paris, France--a moment of pure possibility. But back on firm ground, their vastly different social strata become clear. Cait is a widow who because of her precarious financial situation is forced to chaperone two wealthy Scottish charges. Émile is expected to take on the bourgeois stability of his family's business and choose a suitable wife. As the Eiffel Tower rises, a marvel of steel and air and light, the subject of extreme controversy and a symbol of the future, Cait and Émile must decide what their love is worth.

Seamlessly weaving historical detail and vivid invention, Beatrice Colin evokes the revolutionary time in which Cait and Émile live--one of corsets and secret trysts, duels and Bohemian independence, strict tradition and Impressionist experimentation. To Capture What We Cannot Keep, stylish, provocative, and shimmering, raises probing questions about a woman's place in that world, the overarching reach of class distinctions, and the sacrifices love requires of us all.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: A Historical Fiction novel with a romance in Paris!  Ahhh, l'amour! 

What struck me about this novel was the historical detail that Colin brings to her story. Paris and the Eiffel Tower's very early days were clearly described for the reader and each played roles within the plot. This is a very atmospheric read and Colin places her readers deep in the heart of 19th century Paris with its culture, food and social mores (including the limitations for women at the time). She also shows the dichotomy of Paris' social classes - with its glamour, opulence and culture on one hand and in the other, the gritty, filthy streets where people struggle to make ends meet.  This history of the Eiffel Tower was fascinating and those bits saved this book for me.

Unfortunately, the romance was lackluster at best. I didn't think the connection between Emile and Cait was strong and found the 'obstacles' that they faced to be together weren't as monumental or as daunting as they were portrayed.

Other characters weren't substantial either with not enough page time devoted for the reader to get to know them. Cait herself was a weak main character and I didn't have a connection with her or her poor judgement.  Other characters, like Cait's young charges, were caricatures and the epitome of spoiled, insipid snobs yet interesting characters, like Gabrielle, weren't used as well as I would have hoped.  

This is a slow-paced book with only a handful of scenes, mainly in the last quarter of the book, that gave the plot some vitality.  It was also evident how things would play out and I struggled to stay invested in the story to the point where I was skimming pages to finish it.  The ending, without giving away a spoiler, was rushed, unrealistic and felt tacked on to appease readers.

Overall, my feelings for this book are all over the place.  It was a decent read of an interesting historical era but very weak in the romance department, pacing and character development. What I will take away from it is a newfound knowledge of 19th century Paris as well as the early days of the Eiffel Tower and the man who designed it but, sadly, the plot and characters will not stay with me long.

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