From the blurb:
Bienvenue à Paris!
When April Vogt’s boss tells her about an apartment in the ninth arrondissement that has been discovered after being shuttered for the past seventy years, the Sotheby’s continental furniture specialist does not hear the words “dust” or “rats” or “decrepit.” She hears Paris. She hears escape.
Once in France, April quickly learns the apartment is not merely some rich hoarder’s repository. Beneath the cobwebs and stale perfumed air is a goldmine, and not because of the actual gold (or painted ostrich eggs or mounted rhinoceros horns or bronze bathtub). First, there’s a portrait by one of the masters of the Belle Epoque, Giovanni Boldini. And then there are letters and journals written by the very woman in the painting, Marthe de Florian. These documents reveal that she was more than a renowned courtesan with enviable decolletage. Suddenly April’s quest is no longer about the bureaux plats and Louis-style armchairs that will fetch millions at auction. It’s about discovering the story behind this charismatic woman.
It’s about discovering two women, actually.
With the help of a salty (and annoyingly sexy) Parisian solicitor and the courtesan’s private diaries, April tries to uncover the many secrets buried in the apartment. As she digs into Marthe’s life, April can’t help but take a deeper look into her own. Having left behind in the States a cheating husband, a family crisis about to erupt, and a career she’s been using as the crutch to simply get by, she feels compelled to sort out her own life too. When the things she left bubbling back home begin to boil over, and Parisian delicacies beyond flaky pâtisseries tempt her better judgment, April knows that both she and Marthe deserve happy finales.
Whether accompanied by croissants or champagne, this delectable debut novel depicts the Paris of the Belle Epoque and the present day with vibrant and stunning allure. Based on historical events, Michelle Gable’s A Paris Apartment will entertain and inspire, as readers embrace the struggles and successes of two very unforgettable women.
I absolutely loved the premise of the book. The Parisian apartment on which this story is based captured my imagination when it was discovered some years back, and I was thrilled to discover an author had been inspired by it for a fictional work.
Of the two women’s stories, Marthe’s most enthralled me. I absolutely loved the depiction of her era – the Belle Epoque– and all the colourful characters and behaviours that characterised it. It was a little like the setting for the movie Moulin Rouge, only much more detailed and lively. Don’t expect lyrical beauty, though; there is gritty, and sometimes necessarily indelicate, description of the times. But I was impressed by the author’s research; I really felt like I was plunged into the past.
The modern-day heroine, Alice, didn’t initially intrigue me in the same way as Marthe did, although I found affinity in her deep emotional attachment to the apartment and to uncovering, through Marthe’s journals, the story behind it. But as Alice’s story unfolded, a powerful poignancy emerged which really affected me; I was quite moved by the revelation of her backstory and I gelled a lot better with Alice once I understood what had shaped her actions and attitudes.
Heroines aside, I enjoyed the character of Luc, the solicitor, in the book; indeed, he reminded me of several French men I have met, so I think he was perfectly painted. But in truth the men of this book are secondary; it is the women who dominate, placing this in the women’s literature genre.
Beyond the characters and the setting, another element of the book really shone for me: the collection of precious objects in Marthe’s apartment which Alice’s firm must catalogue for auction. As a collector myself, I was fascinated by the descriptions of the many weird and wonderful treasures and their provenance. Central is a painting by Boldini of Marthe, and the author beautifully showcases this art in the novel. I only wish this novel came with photograph inserts! But a quick Google search can lead the reader to several news stories about the real-life apartment of Mrs De Florian, with accompanying pictures. The Boldini is a must-see.
Finally, no review of this book would be complete without touching on the connections the author draws between characters. Without wishing to include any spoilers, I will simply say that the denouement had me entirely gripped and tearing through the pages to learn who the owner of the apartment is and how every loose thread in Marthe’s story ties up. I loved the ending of the book; I’d go so far as to say it is the most satisfying and delightful ending I have read in a long while. And the very final page… c’est magnifique!
I would highly recommend this book for readers who love historical context and clever re-imaginings of the past; who like colourful and realistic descriptions; who enjoy interesting and honestly flawed characters with depths; who delight in a well-written book with cleverly interwoven connections and revelations; who want to read a book with heart.
A Paris Apartment is available to pre-order from Amazon; click on the book cover below to visit the store.