What little creativity I had when I was in elementary school led to my determination to somehow improve this sad shortcoming. However, while I have good penmanship and can plan events pretty well, I still have not developed any measurable drawing or painting talent. Your fellow Squinks throughout the years have gotten bellyaches from all the laughter induced by my drawing attempts on the whiteboard. Why do I tell you this? It’s just a roundabout way of explaining to you why I admire artists, especially portraitists, so much.
Imogen Robertson’s protagonist, Maude, is a struggling artist voluntarily “lost” in the City of Lights. She’s left the small-town charms and constraints of her little English village to study at the Académie, one of the few places where women could study alone and without condescension during the time period known as la Belle Époque. I really empathized with Maude throughout much of the story on two accounts: First, I love studying, so I know what courage it takes for her to give up a relatively comfortable life back home to chase her art-related dreams across the Channel. The trouble is … she is skint and desperately dreading the imminent cold Paris winter. This is the second reason that made me feel for Maude. Not many people have all the money they could ever need, but to not even know where your next meal is coming from must be a truly frightening and helpless experience.
I love historical fiction, and, in general, history. The beginning of this novel was a little slowly paced for me, but once Maude finds employment with the Morels, I found myself drawn into Robertson’s world of rich characters, and I couldn’t read fast enough. The women in the Paris Winter, in particular, I found very appealing as a reader – though I don’t think I’d be quite as nice to Sylvie as Maude is. Regardless of their moral behaviour or social appearance, I found great pleasure in seeing the story lines of each woman unfold. It’s not surprising that I was rooting for Maude. She is, after all, the protagonist. But she is hardly without fault. I found her seeming lack of gumption galling at times, and on some pages, I really wanted to scream, “Stop being so gullible!” But she is kind and honourable, and I admired her for that. Yvette was a blast to walk through the novel with. She is fiery and fabulously French, typifying the je ne sais quoi expression. I ached for and with Tanya, whose life only seems remarkable to one not living it. But she is decent and loyal, and I cannot find fault with that.
I didn’t fall in love with this book as much as I thought I would, but there is so much strength in Robertson’s writing that I cannot NOT recommend it all the same. Fans of historical fiction and strong female characters will particularly enjoy it, and I’m sure anyone who’s as in love with Paris as I am will find much of the narrative a delight for the senses. Robertson’s writing is eloquent and enchanting – a piece of art in itself. She writes as Maude would draw a portrait: a sketch here, an outline there, and before you know it, a vibrant burst of colours sits before you. I look forward to exploring what other stories Robertson has to offer.
Did you read the Paris Winter? What did you think?
Thank you, St. Martin’s Press, for sending me a copy of the Paris Winter in exchange for an honest review.
All opinions and suggestions expressed herein are entirely my own.