Tuesday, 27 November 2018

The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson - Book Review - Historical Fiction

Maud Heighton came to Lafond's famous Academie to paint, and to flee the constraints of her small English town. It took all her courage to escape, but Paris, she quickly realizes, is no place for a light purse. While her fellow students enjoy the dazzling decadence of the Belle Epoque, Maud slips into poverty. Quietly starving, and dreading another cold Paris winter, she stumbles upon an opportunity when Christian Morel engages her as a live-in companion to his beautiful young sister, Sylvie.
Maud is overjoyed by her good fortune. With a clean room, hot meals, and an umbrella to keep her dry, she is able to hold her head high as she strolls the streets of Montmartre. No longer hostage to poverty and hunger, Maud can at last devote herself to her art.
But all is not as it seems. Christian and Sylvie, Maud soon discovers, are not quite the darlings they pretend to be. Sylvie has a secret addiction to opium and Christian has an ominous air of intrigue. As this dark and powerful tale progresses, Maud is drawn further into the Morels' world of elegant deception. Their secrets become hers, and soon she is caught in a scheme of betrayal and revenge that will plunge her into the darkness that waits beneath this glittering city of light.

The Paris Winter is set during the winter of 1909/1910, a time of peace and prosperity where the arts flourished and gained recognition, known as La Belle Epoque.

Maud hates being poor and hates being hungry but she's determined she'll survive and when she gets the chance to be a companion to Sylvie, the sister of a wealthy Parisienne, she's convinced she has never been happier.  They walk the streets of Paris, sketching and painting, forming a friendship that Maud treasures.  But secrets in the Morel household turn Maud's world upside down.

Author Imogen Robertson's beautifully descriptive writing was an absolute joy to read, she paints such a wonderful illustration of the sights, sounds and smells of Paris.

Some afternoons, Sylvie rebelled against sketching and demanded that they take a turn through the Jardin des Tuileries then along Rue Saint-Honore so she could peer in at the windows.  The displays were becoming more splendid by the hour as Christmas approached: sweet shops filled with great banked displays of pastel coloured macaroons or truffles like scrunched scraps of silk peppered with flakes of gold: stationers, their windows heaving with reams of butter-coloured writing paper and glistening silver fountain pens; haberdashers plumed in an explosion of lace.

The Paris Winter is a slow burner, but when it crackled into life I was taken on a journey from the highs of  the splendour of the wealthiest homes, the fancy boulevards and avenues of Paris, the elegant ladies in their fashionable clothes, to the cafes, low-life bars and opium dens of the thieves and the poor all set against the backdrop of the rising waters of the river Seine, where the floodwaters threaten to take away all of Paris with it.

As Maud changed from a young meek woman into a strong woman who was unafraid, shrewd and clever, the story twisted and turned. 

This is also a story of unlikely friendships between three very different women and I loved how these relationships developed and how they interacted with each other.

This was spoken by Suzanne, one of the artists who helps Maud:

The Russian princess, the French model and the English miss.  Sounds like the start of a bad joke or a good brothel!

Love that quote!  Loved this book!  

The Paris Winter is one of my favourite reads of this year and one I would certainly recommend to anyone who enjoys reading about this particular period and place.

My thanks to NetGalley and publishers St. Martin's Press for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book.

You can buy The Paris Winter from:
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Book Depository

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