I finished this book with mixed feelings, hence 3.5 stars.
Firstly, I think it was a mistake that I read this book just a couple of days after I finished [book: Sarah’s Key] however I thought it would be a different sort of setting. This is because the 2 other books of Belinda Alexandra (namely White Gardenia & Silver Wattle) were mainly set in Australia. Oh, they did start elsewhere but the main protagonists migrated to Australia so I had the same sort of assumptions for this one. I was just the tiniest disappointed that I was wrong.
Simone Fleurier, with all her long leggedness, is not made for farming. She is destined for much bigger things. The unfortunate event of her father passing sees her being bundled off by her uncle to an unknown aunt in Marseilles. Her aunt owns a boarding house of which she is now too old to run by herself. So Simone was made to do all the physical work but with no wages (only food & board). By a series of pure lucks, she somehow made it onto the stage in Marseilles. And by another stroke of luck, she made it to Paris!
Life in Paris was not easy, nor was getting the break she wanted. But, she did find the love of her life. Unfortunately, he is the sole heir of the Blanchard fortune and who is she? Wealth is no barrier for love though… She is faced by something else more menacing. I found this part of the story a little bit annoying because Simone was either naive or was just blind (blinded by beauty & undeserved loyalty).
Europe was just recovering from the Great War and whilst, the outlook was supposedly bright, there are niggling doubts in some people’s minds whether peace will prevail. Life, however, does not stop just because the possibility of war. Simone continued to work and work hard but she did make some preparations to retreat to Pays de Sault, her home village, should war break out. When the war broke out and she was making her way home, she saw the brutality of war which made her realise that she does not want to hide away. She wants to fight. She wants to fight for France, her France.
The book spans about 20 years but the first half of the book was dedicated to one year then the rest was packed in the second half of the book. So in the first half of the book, whilst I did enjoy the read, I was also feeling that it was a tad slow and then suddenly, 2 years passed, then another 5 and so on. I felt a bit rushed at the end. I wished that the first half was halved and a lot more was spent on the ‘intrigue’ in the second half.
I loved the way Simone described Marseilles on arriving:
”…The last rays of the sun glittered on the Mediterranean and the sky was aquamarine. I had never seen the ocean before and the sight of it and the seagulls screeching overhead made my toes tingle. I walked along the Quai des Belges, past Africans selling gold and ochre-coloured spices and brass trinkets. I knew of black people from the books Aunt Yvette had given me to read, but had never seen them in real life. I was fascinated by their white fingernails and place palms…”
And of Paris:
”…I craned my neck to look at the ornate buildings with their wrought-iron railings and slanted roofs. Paris was more sombre than Marseilles, but more elegant too. Marseilles burned into my mind in shades of turquoise and sunflower yellow, while Paris was hues of pearl and oyster…”
*Sigh* yes, I just loved the colours she used to describe both cities – it sounds absolutely wonderful to me.
One last thing, if you’re a history buff (ie. you like your history to be just so – on the ball, so to speak), this book may not be for you. I recommend that you read the Author’s Note (near the end of the book) to explain what liberties she has taken in the story prior to your reading to avoid any disappointment.