Released September, 2007
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.