When I first saw the book Letters from Paris, I was not incredibly excited. The book’s cover is beautiful, and it is written by bestselling author Juliet Blackwell, but the word ‘Paris’ instantly made me apprehensive. After all, there are many books about Paris that involve a woman’s self-discovery (and romance) whilst visiting the French city; what would make this one different?
Cue L’Inconnue de la Seine, also known as the Unknown Woman of the Seine. This young woman, who presumably died in the 1800s, is a real historical figure–one whose face has been immortalized in a mask from her time. It is this enigmatic mask that inspires the main character, Claire (a straight-laced Louisiana native who has made herself a success in the software industry); eager to find out more about the French woman’s demise, Claire abruptly abandons her humdrum life–and her humdrum boyfriend–to head for the unpredictable City of Love!
Claire does not abandon her carefully-constructed existence lightly, and this self-skepticism is very refreshing to read about–as is her underwhelming arrival in Paris. Hoping to suddenly find herself awash with information about L’Inconnue (which is what would happen in a half-baked book), Claire instead learns that there is practically nothing to go on, and that a simple Internet search might have helped her just as easily as a plane ticket. But (as she desperately tries to garner some meaning from her brand-new journey) Claire takes on an informal position in a mask-maker’s studio–the same studio where L’Inconnue’s mask was originally created, so many years ago.
And thus, two stories begin! One is the story of Claire’s developing relationships with the mask-maker–a gruff, talented man–and his extended family. The other is the parallel story of Sabine, L’Inconnue herself, in the late 1800s. It is this historical fiction that creates the suspense and drive in what might otherwise have been a far too slow-moving book: Claire’s day-to-day tale might stagnate a little as she becomes comfortable with the mask-making world, but Sabine’s intense tale steadily carries the reader toward the conclusion (as well as the answers about her death).
Blackwell’s writing style manages to be both nostalgic and whimsical, working perfectly with the story’s plot–but the best part of this novel is by far its parallels between Claire and Sabine! Blackwell cleverly organizes the alternating characters’ chapters so that their situations coincide; both have lost some loved ones, both find themselves desperate (one for identity, one for employment) in the city of Paris, and both women even eat the same food at certain times! It was these parallels that kept me reading during Claire’s less thrilling escapades, and it is these parallels that make Letters from Paris such an intriguing novel. And, in the end, the story has surprising results–for both women!
If you love Paris, romance, history, and/or thoughtful travel dialogues, then this novel will be a winner for you! Blackwell’s research into L’Inconnue and the city’s history adds depth to a disillusioned woman’s present-day tale–and introduces a whole new historic one, right alongside it.
Interested in this story? Find the book on Juliet Blackwell’s official website or online (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, et cetera) and find the author’s social media links below–or check out another similar novel by Blackwell, called The Paris Key!
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