Title: To Capture What We Cannot Keep
Author: Beatrice Colin
Published: January 3rd 2017
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Romance
Rating: 4 stars
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.
Francophiles will flock to this beautiful historical romance, set against the revolutionary construction of the Eiffel Tower in the late 1880’s. To Capture What We Cannot Keep will entice any reader who selects this novel, to book their ticket to see this spectacular landmark. This book offered me the chance to reminisce about my two trips in the past to see the Eiffel Tower and surrounds.
To Capture What We Cannot Keep begins on a cold winter’s day in February 1887. Caitriona Wallace, a Scottish widow, turned chaperone, is in Paris with her charges. Siblings Alice and Jamie Arrol, the niece and nephew of the wealthy builder are on a grand tour of Europe. Part of this grand tour is stop in Paris and an opportunity of a lifetime, to embark on a hot air balloon ride above Paris. This spectacular ride also takes its occupants across the construction site of the Eiffel Tower, set for completion for the 1889 world’s fair. High above Paris, sparks fly in this hot air balloon as Caitriona meets Emile Nouguier, an engineer second in charge to Gustave Eiffel, the tower’s inventor. When they reach the ground, Emile and Caitriona quickly realise their romance is doomed by class and wealth. Caitriona is a woman reduced in wealth due to her husband’s death, Emile in contrast, is from a wealthy bourgeoisie background. Emile’s family expects him to soon take over their business and take a wife. Emile knows his family would not accept a woman of Caitriona’s class or the fact that she is also a foreigner. When Caitriona returns to Scotland after the tour ends she turns down advances to enter marriage again. She still believes in true love, hoping to one day be reunited with Emile. Meanwhile, Emile battles with a tumultuous relationship with an enigmatic figure, Gabrielle, an artist’s wife. When an opportunity presents itself for Caitriona to return to Paris and back into Emile’s arms, the couple must decide if their love for one another can surpass class and finance.
When the opportunity arose to review this book, I literally jumped at the chance. Those who know me well know how much I adore anything Paris related. To Capture What We Cannot Keep satisfied my hunger for reading any story set in what would be my most favourite place in the world, Paris. To Capture What We Cannot Keep offers the reader the ideal combination of romance, fused with a historical commentary on Paris, at a time of great change. Colin is skilled in her ability to bring 1880’s Paris to life for her audience. It was a joy to step back in time and experience this momentous time in France’s history.
Although this story is fictional, Colin chooses to insert a real life character, Emile Nouguier, at the front and centre of her story. To Capture What We Cannot Keep also features Gustave Eiffel, the man behind the inception and construction of the famous tower. While Caitriona and the siblings she is chaperoning are fictional, all come across as well formed by Colin.
Romance and Paris seem to go hand in hand and To Capture What We Cannot Keep features a delightful love story. Caitriona and Emile’s love story is sweet but also features moments of inner struggle. Colin highlights the issues of the time that are outside their control, such as class divisions. The romance side of the novel also allows Colin to explore a significant issue, the plight of women in this era. The unfolding story makes us see how Caitriona is restricted to follow her heart and fall completely in love with Emile. Colin draws our attention to women of Caitriona’s social standing, who were offered little choice in their lives, especially in relation to love. Caitriona’s predicament was heartbreaking and frustrating, making me see how we should not take the freedom to love who we want for granted in the present day.
To Capture What We Cannot Keep is a dazzling story of the risks taken in love and life, in an age of social restriction and revolution. It delivers the perfect combination of history and romance to its audience and I am sure it will have wide appeal.
*Please note that a free copy of this book was provided to me for review purposes through Beauty and Lace. To read the original review on the Beauty and Lace website please visit here.