Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Review: Belle Epoque, by Elizabeth Ross

Belle Epoque is the story of a girl, Maude, in the late 1800s who escapes her father and moves to Paris. She gets one of the most unusual jobs you will ever hear of. Belle Epoque is historical fiction at its finest.

First of all, the title. Here's the explanation of Belle Epoque from Wikipedia:

The Belle Époque or La Belle Époque (French for "Beautiful Era") was a period in French and Belgian history that is conventionally dated as starting in 1871 and ending when World War I began in 1914. Occurring during the era of the Third French Republic (beginning 1870), it was a period characterized by optimism, peace at home and in Europe, new technology and scientific discoveries. The peace and prosperity in Paris allowed the arts to flourish, and many masterpieces of literature, music, theater, and visual art gained recognition. The Belle Époque was named, in retrospect, when it began to be considered a "golden age" in contrast to the horrors of World War I.

I found that pretty interesting.  Anyway, Maude's father was going to make her marry the 40-something-year-old butcher from their village, so she ran away to Pairs. She answers the add for a job, but doesn't understand what she's getting into. It turns out, she's applying (or auditioning) for a job as a repoussoir. They are looking for ugly women who will be hired by Paris' finest and richest people to accompany them to events to make them look more beautiful. The idea being that if you put someone who is only average looking next to someone who is plain or ugly, the average looking person looks beautiful next to the ugly person.

While the idea of this job is abhorrent, the pay is good and meals, clothing, lodging, and training are provided, so Maude really has no choice. She makes some friends and maybe even a romantic interest. She is hired by one of the agency's most important clients, Countess Dubern, to be a friend to her daughter, Isabel. Isabel is going through her first "season" and her mother is determined Isabel will bag a very rich man, preferably with a title.

Isabel has no idea that Maude has been hired by her mother. She also has no interest in getting married. Maude has her work cut out for her, and eventually things blow up.

Belle Epoque has a subtle message about the meaning of beauty. Whether beauty really is only skin deep. Whether money is worth more than happiness. Lots of things to think about...and issues that are still very relevant today.

Belle Epoque is written very well, the characters are engaging, and the pacing is tight. It's a relatively quick read that captured my attention easily. Anyone who is a fan of historical fiction will find a lot here. The Eiffel Tower is being built, and photography is becoming available to the common man. Because of the relative prosperity of the time period, art, culture, and technology were all center stage. Ross uses all these events to enhance Belle Epoque.

Something for everyone here.

Published by Delacorte BFYR, 2013
eBook obtained from the library
250 pages (Amazon and Barnes & Noble say 336 pages, but I'm using the page numbers from my eBook)

Rating: 5/5

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  1. This sounds really really unique, but I'm not much of a historical fiction reader. Hopefully I could get into it one day. I find the concept of repoussoir pretty interesting though! Great review :)

    -Kimi at Geeky Chiquitas

  2. I never read anything from that time period. You definitely have me curious. I'll have to check it out from the library. Thanks!

  3. What an interesting book! I'm going to have to add this one to my TBR list.

  4. I adored this book. I can't wait to read more by this author. great review.


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