For a good summer read that whisks you to Paris (circa 1888) try Belle Epoque, Elizabeth Ross’ lovely debut novel for young adults and more mature audiences alike.
Belle Epoque or the “beautiful era” from about 1870 to 1914 (just before WWI) was a time when art and abundance flourished in France. The Eiffel Tower had broken ground in 1887 amidst controversy between artists and engineers, lending a backdrop for the protagonist’s adventures to unfold.
Even each chapter divide has a subtle and pleasant artistic screen catapulting the mind into French borders.
A well-written and intriguing story amidst our era of unrefined, even crass books for youth (which have their place but seem overwhelming at times) comes Belle Epoque, a refreshing and engaging tale about Maude Pichon, a “beauty foil.”
Maude unwittingly becomes a plain adornment, a repoussoir who is hired to make her wealthy clients appear more beautiful in contrast. But the independent Isabelle, the countess’ daughter, is unaware of her mother’s schemes to use Maude during a season of courting.
As the deception deepens, Maude is torn between the part she is supposed to play, the person she is becoming for her livelihood and the person she is believed to be.
In an age much like our own, where outward appearances may become grossly overvalued, our hero is deemed unworthy and ugly while her transformation is anything but. Maude’s story resonates with those of us who may have ever felt like an outsider or a jewel that sometimes lacks luster.
One of my favorite lines that sums up the heart of the story (warning: possible spoiler alert ahead) is spoken by a love interest —
“You are lovelier than any person I have met in this City of Light.You are truth and honesty and imagination and, yes, beauty. And a rich woman, dripping in jewels and silks with painted lips and curled locks, is but a foil for your purity and strength of character. She is the repoussoir, to your loveliness.”
Where physical beauty fades, a more profound beauty is revealed in Belle Epoque, helping to illuminate that which is valuable in our own lives.