Now this is a book that can pull you right into the heart of Paris, in the winter of 1909, at the height of La Belle Époque. And it’s a book with a rich, dramatic story to tell.
Maud Heighton came to Paris to study art, to paint. She loved the world she found, but she was struggling. She had little money, she was always cold, she was always hungry. Maud didn’t know what to do, but she did know that she wasn’t going to go home to her disapproving family.
Fortunately an angel was on hand. Tanya, was an art student too, and she came from a wealthy Russian family. She saw that Maud was struggling, and she found a way to help. She introduced Maud to Christian, who was looking for a companion for his opium addicted sister Sylvie. Someone to distract her, to encourage her to take an interest in art and books, someone to draw her back into the world.
It seemed almost too good to be true. Maud had a comfortable home, a generous salary, an accommodating employer. She thrived as an artist, and she seemed to be doing Sylvie good. And maybe it was too good to be true, but it was so easy to be swept along. I liked Maud, and I was so pleased to see her happy and successful.
There were little signs that maybe something was amiss. But nothing to prepare me for the sudden crash that came. I wish I could say more, but it really wouldn’t be fair.
A lovely historical story, of art and artists, turned into a tense drama that would culminate in a dramatic finale as Paris is flooded in January 1910.
I was held from start to finish, because I found so much that was wonderful.
The characters were wonderfully drawn, utterly believable, and so very engaging.
And there is so much going on. A love story. A story of art. A crime story. A story of betrayal. And a study of women striving to succeed in a man’s world. Imogen Robertson really knows how to spin a tale, and she brings all of this together beautifully.
Her tale is rich with details – so much art, so much history – and time and place are brilliantly evoked.
And she tells a bigger story too, of a time when women artist struggled in the shadows of their male counterparts, of a time when Paris was at its height as a centre of art and culture, and of a world on the brink of change.
The setting are reflected in catalogue notes for an unsigned collection of art, scattered throughout the text. As I read they felt like a distraction, but in the end the story explained why they had to be there. It was a lovely, clever touch.
There are many lovely, clever touches in a very well constructed plot, that twists and turns in some very interesting ways.
I really do wish I could write more about the story, the characters, all the wonderful things I read about. But this is too good a book to risk spoiling.
It held me from start to finish.