Pub. Date: November 29th, 2016
Genre: Historical Fiction/ French History / Historical Romance
Set against the construction of the Eiffel Tower, this novel charts the relationship between a young Scottish widow and a French engineer who, despite constraints of class and wealth, fall in love.
In February 1887, Caitriona Wallace and Émile Nouguier meet in a hot air balloon, floating high above Paris, France--a moment of pure possibility. But back on firm ground, their vastly different social strata become clear. Cait is a widow who because of her precarious financial situation is forced to chaperone two wealthy Scottish charges. Émile is expected to take on the bourgeois stability of his family's business and choose a suitable wife. As the Eiffel Tower rises, a marvel of steel and air and light, the subject of extreme controversy and a symbol of the future, Cait and Émile must decide what their love is worth.
Seamlessly weaving historical detail and vivid invention, Beatrice Colin evokes the revolutionary time in which Cait and Émile live--one of corsets and secret trysts, duels and Bohemian independence, strict tradition and Impressionist experimentation. To Capture What We Cannot Keep, stylish, provocative, and shimmering, raises probing questions about a woman's place in that world, the overarching reach of class distinctions, and the sacrifices love requires of us all.
What Did I Think About the Story?
The Eiffel Tower is such an iconic symbol of architectural and artistic innovation. I've long been fascinated by it and visiting - and climbing! - it are high up on my bucket list. The gorgeous cover showcasing this remarkable feat of engineering drew me right in and had me requesting a copy of To Capture What We Cannot Keep for review even before reading the synopsis. Even with it's heavy emphasis on the romance between these characters, which isn't typically a big draw for me, I was really looking forward to seeing how the author tackled the ever-changing world of Paris during this time and how the characters and the building of the Eiffel Tower would fit into that world. While I do think the author did a remarkable job of bringing this world to life, I had a few issues with the story that kept this from being a runaway hit for me.
Let's start with the positive. I'm still in a little bit of awe over how vividly Beatrice Colin brought Paris and the building of the tower to life. She shows it all, from the glamour and beauty of the rich and artistic all the way down to the poor, disabled, and desperate. We see the gritty streets and building sites and the opulent artist's salons, and this goes a long way to explaining the pretty hard drawn lines between the various social classes of the characters. The descriptions of the actual building of the tower were my favorite of the whole book and the reader gets to experience it all down to the tiniest girder bar through to the opening. There's a scene towards the end of the story when Cait is climbing the tower in search of Emile when she is overcome with a terrible panic attack due to the height and I will admit to becoming a little uncomfortable myself when reading it...all while I'm safely sitting on my couch! This is just one example of the expressive writing style the author displayed throughout the whole story.
I also very much enjoyed learning more about Gustave Eiffel himself as well as his involvement in the French attempt to build the Panama Canal and the ensuing scandal and bankruptcy. Eiffel is portrayed for much of the story as this whirlwind of a man, one that's kind yet highly ambitious and hardworking, and I'm now determined to read more about him after getting this small taste. This need for more information brought about by an author's presentation is always the sign for me of great writing.
What I did not enjoy as much was the character development of all other characters. I wanted to like these characters, especially Cait and Emile, but I just found something lacking in nearly all of them. The constant back and forth between Cait and Emile became quite irritating, and I couldn't help but continuously wonder why, if they actually loved each other as they internally claimed (because I don't believe they ever outwardly stated it and, if they did, I missed it), they didn't do whatever it took to be together even if that meant going against what was expected of them. It was probably the most non-romantic romance I've encountered. The other characters weren't much better and I especially disliked Cait's two Scottish charges as they were incredibly selfish and vapid. The only other character I liked (other than Eiffel) was Gabrielle, the drug-addicted artist's wife who's Emile's mistress at the beginning of the novel, and I enjoyed her mainly for her ability to ruffle up the other characters and bring some actual spice to the story.
It's been a while since I've read a story that had me so divided on the likes and dislikes within it. I absolutely adored the descriptions of Paris and the building of the tower and would have happily spent the entire book reading more about that. However, the characters left so much to be desired that I just couldn't love the story overall. There is just so little romance going on within that I think those that enjoy those sorts of story will likely be disappointed. However, if you can look past that aspect and just enjoy the dynamic and multilayered world the author places these characters in, there is still much that can be enjoyed here.
What Did I Think About the Cover?
It's GORGEOUS!! As I said above the cover is actually what drew me to pick this book up in the first place. I love the idea of reading a novel about the building of the Eiffel Tower and the coloring, with the snow-dappled filminess and golden framing, is classically beautiful. Wonderful job done by whoever picked this cover!
My Rating: 3.0/5.0
I received a copy of To Capture What We Cannot Keep from Netgalley and Flatiron Books. All opinions are my own. You can find more information, including other reviews and where to purchase a copy, on Goodreads.
I read To Capture What We Cannot Keep as a buddy read with some blogger friends and will link to their reviews below as they become available. Be sure to check them out!
The Maiden's Court