Title: The Light of Paris
Author: Eleanor Brown
Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication Date: 2016
Caught in an unhappy life, Madeleine has always allowed herself to be molded by others. First, her mother shaped her school activities, scoffed at her love of painting, and created a persona that Madeleine struggled to maintain. Her marriage to Phillip is no different; he dictates what she wears, criticizes her body image, and expects her to follow the standards of a high-society wife.
When she feels that she is at the breaking point, Madeleine escapes to her hometown. Although her mother’s house has never seemed a refuge, Madeleine hopes for a sense of balance. She is shocked to discover that her mother is preparing to sell the family home. Swept up in helping to clear out over 50 years of memories and treasures, Madeleine discovers a diary written by her grandmother. Although she passed when she was just a child, Madeleine remembers her grandmother as elegant and refined. What she finds in the diary is a journal of one epic, memorable Parisian summer.
As Madeleine reads about her grandmother Margie’s exploits and awakenings, she too begins to explore who she was and who she had wanted to be. Picking up a paintbrush for the first time in years and reconnecting with acquaintances from high school help Madeleine recognize the changes, challenges, and joys in everyone’s lives. Before she can find her own dream and destiny, Madeleine must decide who she wants to be and what life she wants to live.
As I have been on a Parisian obsession recently, this book quickly caught my eye. What made me read it however was the author, Eleanor Brown. Her previous novel The Weird Sisters detailed the lives of three sisters whose father was a Shakespearean scholar; I loved this book and enjoyed the fluid and engaging writing style but I had to pick up this new book.
The Light of Paris is a bit different; both Madeleine and Margie’s stories are told separately, but the personal growth and discoveries parallel one another. The author wrote Margie’s stories as though Madeleine retold them after she read the diary; it was an interesting perspective and style. I am not sure if I liked it but it reflected how the primary story of Madeleine was influenced by Margie’s own evolution. At times, I felt that Madeleine’s interpretation of Margie’s story was a bit biased but it provided great insight on Madeleine’s progress of self-discovery.
Who might like this book:
Although I didn’t feel as immersed in Parisian culture as some other novels I have read, The Light of Paris delves into the artists of Paris in the 1920’s. I really liked the descriptions of the artwork through Margie’s innocent eyes and Madeleine’s artistic knowledge.
This would be a fun book for a book group. There is ample fodder for discussion about life goals and the people and situations that both assist and interfere with their attainment; however, it is truly a story about the choices people make and that ultimately we must take charge of our own destiny.