Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross is a young adult book about Maude, a girl who runs away from her home in Breton to Paris in the late 19th century. She finds work as a repoussoir. (Don’t worry, I didn’t know what that was either.) It turns out that Paris ladies who wanted to appear more attractive in public could hire a professional companion to direct favorable attention to her. The repoussoir was a plain or ugly woman who makes the client look more attractive by comparison. She poses as a friend or acquaintance of the client and distracts the attention of less desirable suitors and sings the praises of her client to more desirable suitors in social situations. That’s right, a repoussoir is a professional ugly friend.
But what happens when the client doesn’t know she’s a client? What happens when the repoussoir and the client become friends for real?
Belle Epoque is a charming, uncomplicated story about friendship, self-esteem, and artistic courage. It gracefully avoids sounding sappy or getting too predictable.
Maud’s Left Bank friends include a young composer, an artist, and her fellow repoussoirs. She spends an evening at Le Chat Noir, and attends bistro concerts with the delightful bohemians. Her debutant client introduces her to aristocratic Right Bank friends at balls, concerts, and the Paris Opera. She has the best of both worlds but is never completely comfortable in either. Both Maude and her client Isabelle will appeal to geek-girls with their interest in science and art and their challenges navigating what is expected of young ladies.
What wander-readers will love:
- Elizabeth Ross brings you into turn-of-the-(last)century Paris with her descriptions of the Seine, the Eiffel tower (under construction) and the famous cabaret, Le Chat Noir.
- You follow the main character through both aristocratic and bohemian Paris settings exploring the divergent cultures and views.
- The novel comes to a climax at Christmas amid the seasonal traditions and customs. A perfect read for kids on Christmas vacation.
So give the Dickens routine a rest this year and go to Paris instead of London for the literary holiday. I’m not saying Belle Epoqué is classic literature or anything, but it is a refreshing and liberating story that explores contemporary themes through the streets and salons of turn-of-the-century Paris.
Read ~ Write ~ Wander