Madeleine is trapped—by her family’s expectations, by her controlling husband, and by her own fears—in an unhappy marriage and a life she never wanted. From the outside, it looks like she has everything, but on the inside, she fears she has nothing that matters.
In Madeleine’s memories, her grandmother Margie is the kind of woman she should have been—elegant, reserved, perfect. But when Madeleine finds a diary detailing Margie’s bold, romantic trip to Jazz Age Paris, she meets the grandmother she never knew: a dreamer who defied her strict, staid family and spent an exhilarating summer writing in cafés, living on her own, and falling for a charismatic artist.
Despite her unhappiness, when Madeleine’s marriage is threatened, she panics, escaping to her hometown and staying with her critical, disapproving mother. In that unlikely place, shaken by the revelation of a long-hidden family secret and inspired by her grandmother’s bravery, Madeleine creates her own Parisian summer—reconnecting to her love of painting, cultivating a vibrant circle of creative friends, and finding a kindred spirit in a down-to-earth chef who reminds her to feed both her body and her heart.
Margie and Madeleine’s stories intertwine to explore the joys and risks of living life on our own terms, of defying the rules that hold us back from our dreams, and of becoming the people we are meant to be.
From the publishers, via Netglley, in exchange for a review
This is across 2 different timeframes, with 1999’s Madeline planning to visit her mother for a week. Hours before she leaves, she has an argument with husband Phillip – it’s not a raging argument, as Madeline is too used to giving in, but she’s finally reached a turning point (another business dinner with people she doesn’t like, wearing clothes she didn’t choose and still being told she’s fat and being made to feel guilty for eating just one cookie that day). The parting shot from Phillip is “perhaps they should get a divorce”.
Her mother, small, with perfect hair and makeup and an apparently perfect life, is apparently going to sell her house, which Maddie only finds out when she gets out of the taxi, and is greeted by the real estate agent (an old school friend, the local rebel). Maddie decides to hide from Phillip under the guise of helping her mother prepare to sell the house. Having forgotten to pack a book for her trip, when she finds her grandmother’s diaries in the attic she decides to read them.
Margie’s diaries are from 1924, and tell of how, at 24 years old, she’s classed as a spinster (having refused the proposal of a business man twice her age), and is sent to chaperone her cousin (Evelyn) in a trip around Europe. Evelyn dumps Margie almost as soon as they hit Paris, taking most of the shared money with her. It is too soon for her to return home, even if she had the money for the ticket.
Having met an artist, Margie is persuaded to get a job a private library and stay in Paris for what seems like an age (but what is in fact only 3 months). This is a slightly different format that the standard “first person narrative” where we get to read Margie’s diaries. We see it from Madeline reading and reacting to the diaries and assessing her life accordingly.
Having reached rock bottom, Madeline starts gaining the strength to reassess her life and start defining it on her own terms. It helps in having friends around her – both old and new – including the owner of the next door Restaurant (something that is driving her mother demented). She also get to see that the down town part of her home town has regenerated itself into something new and interesting. In clearing out the basement, she finds hew old painting tools and starts investing her time in her hobby, even when her mother seems to deride her choice. There is a bombshell in the diaries, that puts a new spin on things, and it takes Madeline a while to deal with the effects on her family and it has the potential to affect the relationship with her mother.
At her mother’s prompting, she gives it another go with Phillip, but realises fairly quickly that things will never change, and that she does need to take control of her life and stop being walked on. She finds her voice, returns to her mother’s house to help finish selling the house.
This is a great book that covers defining yourself against because of, or despite of, the definitions of others, and how each person can be constrained (or constrain others) by making assumptions.
About this Author
Eleanor Brown is the New York Times and international bestselling author of the novel The Weird Sisters, and of the fitness inspiration book WOD Motivation.
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