Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown

Madeleine has lived her whole life trying to live up to the expectations of her mother, husband, and the society into which she was raised.  Her relationship with her mother has always been strained.  Madeleine has always felt like a disappointment - her body, her passions, her interests, and her personality all stand in stark contrast to the expectations her mother has always had for her.  Madeleine has entered into a controlling marriage that offers a similarly critical environment and she finds herself trapped in a life she has never wanted, even if on the outside it appears as though she has it all.

Margie is Madeleine's grandmother.  Madeleine remembers her grandmother as being very similar to her mother - elegant, stuffy, and reserved.  While cleaning in her mother's attic, Madeleine finds Margie's diary and through it she follows her grandmother on a bold trip to Jazz Age Paris.  Margie as a young woman is completely different from the woman Madeleine remembers growing up.  Her grandmother was creative, a dreamer, and stood in defiance of her strict and critical family.  She, just like Madeleine, felt trapped in a world she didn't wish to be a part of - and she was able to spend a summer writing in cafes, making her own way, and falling in love.

Madeleine's marriage is threatened, and she finds unlikely refuge while visiting her mother and her hometown.  She reads about her grandmother's Parisian summer and finds herself reconnecting with parts of herself she thought she had lost.  

This was a beautiful book!  I'm a sucker for multiple narratives.  Especially when I like both characters equally.  Often, I find myself getting to a certain character's chapter and losing the momentum I had gained with my favorite character in the section prior.  Not the case here.  Both storylines were engaging and I loved how Brown made their lives intertwine even though they were living in different times and places.  

The biggest themes in The Light of Paris are expectations and control.  Despite the 75 year difference, both Madeleine and Margie were dealing with the same issues.
  • Pressure for marriage.  Madeleine feels the pressure to stay married.  Her husband and her mother fear how divorce will look to their social circles.  Margie's family sees marriage as a primary goal for her with no regard for the things she is passionate about.  
  • The relationship between mothers and daughters.  How can mothers best protect their daughters?  Is it more important to set up rigid expectations with the hope that safe pathways will be taken leading to a successful life?  Or should mothers step aside and allow their daughters to make mistakes and grow?  Which path really leads to happiness? 
  • Body image.  Do you make yourself happy or listen to what the world around you is saying and make yourself desirable for another?
I really loved this book - it was the perfect read to kick off my summer.  Eleanor Brown writes beautifully.  You'll be able to feel the cold, impersonal home that Madeleine lives in with her husband, and feel the sun on your skin as she has a stack of pancakes at an outdoor cafe.  You'll be able to smell the fresh Parisian bread, and the smoke-filled jazz clubs.  Beautiful language paired with big issues, all wrapped into a fantastic story.  

The Light of Paris came out yesterday, so click here to grab yourself a copy!  

Full Disclosure: I received a copy of The Light of Paris for free by the publisher.  The thoughts printed above are entirely my own!  

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