Review of Eleanor Brown’s “The Light of Paris”

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If you are going through a tough or static time in life when you think you should make a major change, this book is for you. It is the kind of book that stays with you days after reading it. What it points out is that there are risks in life no matter what you do.

Stay or go. Sometimes, just sometimes, the risk to go is worth taking.

Eleanor Brown sets up the risks of life changes in her double narrative in “The Light of Paris” by varying chapters from Madeleine in 1999 and Margie in 1919.

In 1999, when we meet Madeleine, she is married to Phillip and lives in a large city. He is a social climber and major controller and narcissist who sees only his own reflective needs.  By the end of the first chapter, it is clear that Madeleine is tired of Phillip’s constant criticism and expectations for her life.

And, so, she takes off to visit her equally critical mother, Mrs. Bowers, who lives in a small town called Magnolia where Madeleine was brought up. Her mother is selling the family home and Madeleine wants to help her — starting with the attic where she finds her grandmother’s journal.

Very quickly, Madeleine immerses herself in that journal. She also renews her love of gardening and painting. And, of course, she meets Henry, a down to earth chef who lives next door and actually cares about her.

The puzzle for Madeleine is that the Margie in the 1919 journal is not the Margie Madeleine remembers. What Madeleine remembers was a grandmother who was dignified and reserved and content with her life. In the journal, however, she meets a dreamer and risk taker and a woman who wants to marry for love.

Madeleine also discovers a woman who was willing to step out into the unknown world of art in Paris over an entire summer where she meets and falls in love with one particular artist named Sebastian. The oldest son in his family, he was given five years of his life to explore his art. Unfortunately, his meeting with Margie was at the end of that period.  As a result, she is devastated when he leaves both her and Paris.

However, Margie’s life is not over. On returning home she marries an old friend named Robert Walsh, a friendship she renewed aboard ship.  To Madeleine, it seemed as though, once returned home, Margie simply gave up her dream to marry for love, instead accepting her lot in life with dignity and peace.

However, as honourable as that might have been, Madeleine decides she does not want to stay married to Phillip and returns to a new life in Magnolia.

Of course, there is a family secret in this story that affects all three generations of women. Since I don’t want to spoil the story, readers will have to read the book to find out what that secret is — although some may have guessed what it might be.

I enjoyed this book very much. If I have any complaints it was that character names and locations were sometimes hard to follow. Regardless, my rating for this book is 4 stars out of 5.

Published by G. Putnam`s and Sons in July 2016, it has 308 pages.