Title: A Paris Apartment
Author: Michelle Gable
Publisher: Thomas Dunn Books
Publication Date: 2014
Running away from problems in her marriage, April Vogt jumps at the opportunity to travel to Paris. As Sotheby’s furniture specialist, she is thrilled to inspect and catalog furniture in a ninth arrondissement Paris apartment that has been closed up for 70 years. Digging through the dust and dirt and decay however, it is not the furniture that catches her eye. Instead, it is a previously unknown portrait of renowned courtesan Marthe de Florian by master of the Belle Epoque period, Giovanni Boldini. What is even more exciting is the collection of letters and journals by Marthe that chronicled her life.
April becomes swept up in Marthe’s story of how she started as an orphan, got a job as a barmaid at the Folies Bergere, and went on to become a very well-known demimondaine, the highest possible level for a courtesan. Her interaction with some of the famous contemporaries of the time, as well as her deep seated rivalry with Jeanne Hugo, daughter of Victor Hugo, create a truly amazing life story.
April’s own life takes interesting twists and turns as she meets the estate lawyer, Luc. He slowly provides her with information about Marthe’s heir who is selling the estate and April begins to put the pieces of the puzzle of the past together. Her own marriage to Troy teeters as well but there is also some hope for the future.
I had read about this book when it came out in hardback. I rarely buy hardbacks and never seemed to get it from the library, so it kind of fell off my radar. I was thrilled when I discovered it paperback. It is an amazing story based on a true-story of a treasure-stocked Parisian apartment that had been closed up for decades. I enjoyed how the author made the reader feel like a treasure hunter as secrets and surprises were unearthed. I admit that Paris has never been a “must-see” destination for me, but this book, along with the Hugo Marston series, has really piqued my interest. The setting descriptions from both the past and present are very detailed and I love how, in many cases, there is little change between the two.
The story is very plot driven, both in the past and present, and I really liked how they were written together without being dependent upon one another. Often what a character learns from the past changes how they perceive the present and then all is right and comes together perfectly – rather unrealistic. Although April learns about the past and it does reflect on her present, the two are still very separate stories that don’t have to intertwine. I liked how that was different from a lot of other stories that are written in two time periods.
Another thing that surprised me was how I liked and empathized with Marthe’s character much more than April’s. I didn’t really care for April and her choices, which is different for me. I usually really relate to and appreciate the protagonists. This however in NO way made me enjoy the book less. The book was a departure for me and I liked the change.
Who might like this book:
This is a great book for lovers of Parisian history, art, and culture. I think if I had ever been to Paris, I would have enjoyed this book on a completely different level, as many of the local references were lost on me. I also liked how April was a historical furniture expert; once again, a departure from the typical art experts that are often seen in novels. It presented the story in a different light.
Fans of stories that interweave the past and present may also like this book; although, I didn’t feel it was as much interwoven as parallel. I would be curious to see what others think.