Friday, October 05, 2007

The Collection by Gioia Diliberto

The Collection by Gioia Diliberto
Released September, 2007
Scribner Fiction
275 pages (hardback)

What led you to pick up this book? I received it from Simon & Schuster's Reader Review program.

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. Ill with consumption, young Isabelle Varlet learns to sew from her grandmother and later obtains a job in the atelier of Coco Chanel in Paris, during the aftermath of WWI, where she has an inside view of the rise of French couture.

What did you like most about the book? The setting and time period. The book begins in a small French village and then moves to Paris. I liked the atmosphere of village life before and during a major war, the sense of what it must have been like for an entire nation to lose most of its young men and to experience the damage to those who returned from battle. The book definitely had a strong sense of the impact to France's young male population and how the loss of young males effected young women.

What did you think of the main character? I found her extremely bland and practically devoid of personality. She was not a character I found I cared about; however, I still wanted to know what was going to happen.

Share some quotes from the book.

About the village baker:

I do not believe that a taciturn nature is evidence of a sluggish mind, and I did not feel more clever than Jacques. He had his own kind of genius, which Madame Duval, not liking sweets, couldn't see.

About Isabelle's best friend in Paris:

Daniel sat on the edge of my bed in his officer's uniform: navy slacks and a horizon blue jacket with brass buttons. Over the jacket he wore a brown leather belt with shoulder straps and two ammunition pouches. I'd never seen him in uniform before. He wasn't one of those flashy veterans, those champions of suffering, who wore their medals everywhere and boasted constantly of their bravery. Daniel didn't consider himself special for having survived the war. "Everyone's a survivor of something," he told me once. "Even if it's just their own foolishness."

Share a favorite scene from the book: I can't honestly think of a single scene that stands out. I liked the setting, but I found the story a little plodding. Just when it seemed that something exciting was going to happen, things seemed to peter out.

In general: I found the book was written with clarity, but lacking in excitement. There was a lot of build-up, disappointment, build-up, disappointment. I loved the historical backdrop and I didn't find it immensely difficult to read; but, it was not a fast read because it never really captured me. A tiny glossary would have been nice, as there are numerous technical terms and the occasional French phrase, none of which were directly defined. Most were easily understood in context, but it would have been nice to make sure. For example, people were always sending each other petit bleus. I assumed a petit bleu was some sort of telegram, but the direct translation is "small blue" - not a very helpful translation - and I don't read near the computer, so it wasn't convenient to search for definitions. Later, I looked it up and discovered that a petit bleu was, in fact, a distinctly Parisian form of telegram. It would have been nice to know that while I was reading the book.

3/5 - An average read, decently written but a bit dull and heavy in detail of the fashion scene (a little too detailed for me - I'm not a fashion buff). The best feature of this book was its interesting historical backdrop.


  1. Hmm, Literary Feline just reviewed this same book and said very similar things. Guess I'll skip this one since I have zero interest in fashion history.

  2. Kookie,

    Did she? I'll have to go look. I lifted Dewey's book review format because I had a feeling that I'd focus on the negative if I didn't have questions to answer that dealt specifically with what was positive about the book. Nope, not a fashion buff, either.

  3. Nancy - I think I did enjoy the book slightly more than you, but many of the faults you pointed out were ones I found with the book too. The historical aspects were what most interested me as well.

  4. Wendy,

    I noticed we both gave the book the same rating. It wasn't bad, just disappointing in many ways, I guess. I did love that setting, though!

  5. I thought the subject sounded interesting. Too bad it wasn't a better book.

  6. Framed,

    I was intrigued by the subject, also. I think the biggest problem I had with the book was that the one event I most wanted to happen became an afterthought - it did occur, but it was never described in the book. Instead, it becomes obvious that it eventually took place (and not even directly) in the epilogue. How disappointing is that?

  7. I picked this up at the library - and put it back. I doubt I'll pick it up again - thanks for the review.

  8. Is this the first book by this author? If so, maybe she'll improve. I thought the title, cover and premise sounded interesting. There are too many great books to settle for a so-so. Guess I'll pass on this one.

  9. Tara,

    Did you flip through the book? I thought it looked so good and then I was disappointed. Her writing is fine; it was just that the heroine seemed a bit flat and unemotional, to me, and I thought she built up expectations only to have them end in . . . blah. I think it's worth passing up, but I think she has enormous potential if she can pep up the action.

  10. Booklogged,

    According to the blurb, the author has written three biographies and one other novel, I Am Madame X. I feel exactly the same way. There's no sense wasting my time. I keep doing it, anyway, though. I need to work on that! I really think her writing is okay and the book could have been fantastic if she hadn't dangled romance and then made it an afterthought. There was so much potential, you know?


Thank you for visiting my blog! I use comment moderation because apparently my blog is a spam magnet. Don't worry. If you're not a robot, your comment will eventually show up and I will respond, with a few exceptions. If a comment smacks of advertising, contains a dubious link or is offensive, it will be deleted. I love to hear from real people! I'm a really chatty gal and I love your comments!