|Allen & Unwin
What's it all about...
In February 1887, Caitriona Wallace and Émile Nouguier meet in a hot air balloon, floating high above Paris, France--a moment of pure possibility. But back on firm ground, their vastly different social strata become clear.As the Eiffel Tower rises, a marvel of steel and air and light, the subject of extreme controversy and a symbol of the future, Cait and Émile must decide what their love is worth.
What did I think about it...
This interesting love story is set during the glory days of the La Belle Époque when the world was innovated both by design and invention. Widow, Caitriona Wallace, is the paid companion of brother and sister, Jamie and Alice Arrol, and their arrival in Paris is the culmination of a European tour. Caitriona does not expect to find love again, nor does she seek it out, but a chance meeting with, Émile Nouguier, the Eiffel Tower architect, starts a delicate relationship which opens up a wealth of unseen possibilities for Caitriona.
The story is nicely written and brings eighteenth century Paris alive in the imagination. I enjoyed getting to know the characters and think that the author did a good job in demonstrating the expectations of people in different social classes. There are a few really interesting female characters that help to give the book its light and shade. I particularly liked Gabrielle, Émile's feisty mistress, whose chaotic lifestyle clearly showed that life, for some women was never going to be easy. However, I'm not sure that the men come across with any redeeming qualities, Jamie Arrol, in particular, is a bit of a loose cannon and I think that the author captured what it was like for an aimless young man who had too much time and not enough common sense. Émile Nouguier is rather an enigma, and whilst I wanted to like him for Caitriona's sake, I found him rather disappointing as a romantic lead character. The detailed description of the construction of the Eiffel Tower was particularly fascinating as was the people’s reaction to its construction and completion.
To Capture What we Cannot Keep is a quietly confident and intelligently written historical novel. It captures the atmosphere of nineteenth century Paris really well both in terms of its social constraints and also of the magic of living in such a wonderfully inventive age.
Best Read with ... Delicate French pâtisserie..
Beatrice Colin is a novelist based in Glasgow. The Luminous Life of Lily Aphrodite, a novel set in Berlin in the early twentieth century was translated into eight languages and was Richard and Judy pick. Beatrice has been shortlisted for a British Book award, a Saltire award and a Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award. She also writes plays and adaptations of BBC Radio 4.
My thanks to Karen at Atlantic Books for my review copy of this book