you're a widow in 1880s Scotland. As a young, respectable woman, what are your options? Your two major choices would be remarriage or to take
one of the few available suitable jobs. Caitriona Wallace decided to
The sand on the Champ de Mars was powdered with snow. A huge blue-and-white-striped hot-air balloon swooned on its ropes in front of Ecole Militaire, the gondola tethered to a small wooden platform strung out with grubby yellow bunting. Three figures, two women and a man, hurried from a hired landau on the avenue de Suffren across the parade ground toward the balloon.—To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin (Flatiron Books, 2016, p. 3)
"Attendez," called out Caitriona Wallace. "Nous arrivons!"
- Setting: 1880s Paris, with flashbacks to Scotland and elsewhere in France
- Circumstances: Thirty-one-year-old Caitriona takes a job
chaperoning two wealthy young adults—brother and sister Jamie and
Alice—from their native Scotland to Paris, where the Eiffel Tower is
rising into the sky. Emile Nouguier, second in command of the tower
construction, is being pressured by his mother to marry and take over
the family business. Meanwhile, thanks to Emile's ex-lover, Jamie and
Alice are discovering the city's scandalous underworld. Although Cait
and Emile are attracted to each other, their relationship seems doomed
by family and cultural expectations.
- Genre: historical fiction; adult audience
- Themes: women's issues, social prejudice, sociocultural norms, class differences
- Main characters: Emile, a senior civil engineer from a well-off family; Emile's mother, who wants him to find a financially secure and upper-class wife; Cait, a young widow trying to make a future for herself; Jamie and Alice, well-off Scots who discover the wilder, arty side of Paris
- What the reviewers say: Everyone mentions that Colin gets the historical details just right, from the fashions to the social mores and the construction of the Eiffel tower. The plotting is complex enough to offer some surprises and provides a nice balance between the romance and the deeper issues. To Capture What We Cannot Keep also explores 1880s technology and the way the world was changing as France looked forward to celebrating the 100th anniversary of their revolution.
- Other things to know: This is a Flatiron Book, which means it's an Amy Einhorn book, which in turn means it's sure to be wonderful. The novel is an Indie Next pick for November 2016.