Release date: November 29, 2016
My rating: 3.5 out of 5
The Short Of It:
A historical fiction novel with a tinge of romance set during the construction of the Eiffel Tower. It wasn't flawless, but most Francophiles should enjoy it.
The Long Of It:
I was utterly powerless to resist that lovely cover. The artwork -- just as the story within does -- positively oozes an enticing 19th century Parisian atmosphere.
Colin's historical fiction novel is set in late 1880s Paris as construction on the centerpiece of the 1889 World's Fair -- the Eiffel Tower -- is underway. My favorite part of the book was learning more about this iconic landmark -- a true architectural wonder in its day, and for a time the tallest structure in the world. Did you know it was originally painted red? And only supposed to be a temporary installation? I also loved the setting -- both time and place -- and the way Colin so immersively, descriptively presented it. The clothes, customs, events and lifestyles of the day are all wonderfully woven into the story. The plot, at its heart a story of self-discovery and letting go of the past, was adequate, but Paris and the Eiffel Tower were the stars for me.
Scottish widow Caitriona Wallace is in Paris as a companion for her two charges, Alice and Jamie Arrol, as they complete their Grand Tour of Europe. Fearing poverty after the tragic death of her husband, Cait took the chaperone job offered by their wealthy uncle, never expecting that a chance encounter on a hot air balloon above Paris would so drastically change her life. The man she meets is Emile Nouguier, a chief engineer on the Eiffel Tower. And the spark of attraction she feels as she grabs his arm when it looks like he might go overboard is undeniable.
Paris is the last stop on the siblings' European tour, but after a brief sojourn home to Scotland the trio returns to France. Jamie has managed to wheedle himself an apprenticeship on the Eiffel Tower, Alice goes along at the urging of her uncle who hopes she might land a husband -- perhaps a certain French engineer -- and Cait's in tow once again as a chaperone. She never expected to see Emile again -- and he never imagined he'd be reunited with the striking Scotchwoman who's so consumed his thoughts -- but they're quickly pulled into each other's orbit, despite the secrets about her past Cait's harboring and the fact that social convention dictates they could never be together. Meanwhile Cait's charges find trouble all their own -- debt, brothels, spoiled virtue and a duel are involved.
I loved capable, brave, intelligent Cait, and Emile was likable enough, but the rest of the characters left much to be desired. Jamie and Alice were vapid, whiny, naive and annoying, Emile's jilted lover Gabrielle was far worse, Gustave Eiffel is jovial but eventually reveals himself to be bit of a jerk. Perhaps their faults are meant to emphasize Cait's goodness, but I really wish the minor characters (other than Gabrielle, the obvious villain) had been more sympathetically drawn, especially Alice and Jamie. I didn't see any real reason for the duo to perpetually behave like idiots.
Even though the book wasn't perfect -- and perhaps a more interesting story could've been set against the fascinating backdrop of the Eiffel Tower construction -- I did enjoy it. If you like light historical fiction and books set in Paris, you'll likely find "To Capture What We Cannot Keep" a pleasant read.
*Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a free advance copy in exchange for an honest review!