Title: The Light of Paris
Author: Eleanor Brown
No. of Pages: 320
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Origins: G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: 12 July 2016
“Madeleine is trapped—by her family’s expectations, by her controlling husband, and by her own fears—in an unhappy marriage and a life she never wanted. From the outside, it looks like she has everything, but on the inside, she fears she has nothing that matters.
In Madeleine’s memories, her grandmother Margie is the kind of woman she should have been—elegant, reserved, perfect. But when Madeleine finds a diary detailing Margie’s bold, romantic trip to Jazz Age Paris, she meets the grandmother she never knew: a dreamer who defied her strict, staid family and spent an exhilarating summer writing in cafés, living on her own, and falling for a charismatic artist.
Despite her unhappiness, when Madeleine’s marriage is threatened, she panics, escaping to her hometown and staying with her critical, disapproving mother. In that unlikely place, shaken by the revelation of a long-hidden family secret and inspired by her grandmother’s bravery, Madeleine creates her own Parisian summer—reconnecting to her love of painting, cultivating a vibrant circle of creative friends, and finding a kindred spirit in a down-to-earth chef who reminds her to feed both her body and her heart.
Margie and Madeleine’s stories intertwine to explore the joys and risks of living life on our own terms, of defying the rules that hold us back from our dreams, and of becoming the people we are meant to be.”
My Thoughts: Long-time readers know I struggle with women’s fiction. This is through no fault of the authors. I just have issues with the stories in general. Knowing how everyone raved about Ms. Brown’s first novel, I had high hopes for The Light of Paris. Unfortunately for me, it contains everything I do not enjoy in women’s fiction.
This is not to say I did not enjoy the novel. There are parts of it that are enjoyable. The descriptions are Paris are entrancing; Ms. Brown makes even the most mundane experiences sound like an adventure. Watching Margie grow her wings and experience life for the first time is a true pleasure. Margie has a joie de vivre while there that only adds to the city’s charm. Oh to have been alive and young and in Paris during the 1920s!
The vibrancy of the Paris scenes contrast so severely from the modern scenes and the joy and sense of freedom you experience while reading about Paris disappear once the narration switches back to Madeleine. There is something about Madeleine’s constant inner monologue of excuses and justifications that quickly grows old, as does the nonstop questioning of her purpose in life. She is so defeatist; at one point in time, her mother accuses her of standing in her own way of happiness. The truth of this statement never really dawns on Madeleine. She interprets it as her mother means it – that she never gave her current life a chance. However, the opposite is true. She let others steamroll her into a box of a life that fit her no better than the proverbial square peg in a round hole and was conscious of it happening to her the entire time.
Therein lies my greatest problem with The Light of Paris and novels like it. I like my heroines to have a little more backbone and fight in them. Margie has some when she makes the decision to stay in Paris against her parents’ wishes but quickly loses that backbone when life takes an ill turn. Madeleine only gets a backbone upon reading her grandmother’s notebooks. One is left to wonder if she would have done anything different in her life had she never discovered them.
I know this is an unfair assessment. I do not like the happily ever after endings in such novels, but neither do I like characters – especially female ones – who are weak and easily controlled by others. The former is not realistic, but the latter is too realistic. Still, I like what I like, and I dislike what I dislike. In this case, the two things that bother me in fiction ended up in one book.
The Light of Paris is going to be one of those books that will encourage a love of Paris and help readers reassess their own lives. This is an important point. In Margie and Madeleine, readers can easily see themselves. Moreover, the two characters provide the inspiration for anyone to reflect on one’s dreams and passions and evaluate whether they can incorporate those dreams back into their lives. I really struggled to get past the somewhat formulaic plot and the annoying (to me) characters, but I just know that The Light of Paris is going to be a hot book this summer.
I struggle with women’s fiction and/or chick lit too. The last was a Beatriz Williams novel and I didnt like it. I wonder if I should keep trying or just stick with the genre I like.
I always try, but there are certain authors I definitely avoid at all costs. Of course, I am a glutton for punishment and will regularly reread John Steinbeck even though I pretty much loathe him. I always hope that the next read will be the one that shows me his brilliance. I am the same way with women’s fiction.
I have that problem with women’s fiction too. I prefer active, strong heroines, though that’s not always so realistic. We can all dream of having the chance to be that persona though.
Yes, we can.