I really enjoyed Alexandra Joel’s previous novel, The Royal Correspondent, there is something about the glamour of sixties London that I love reading about. However, that doesn’t mean that glamour didn’t have a darker side and this is what Joel dug into when creating that particular novel.
In The Paris Model, again we are getting the glamour and beauty of a city, this time Paris, and the seedy underbelly is one I am not familiar with – in that I didn’t learn about it at school – the Communist uprising in Paris in the late 1940s and early 1950s, so post-war.
Sometimes you have to lose everything to find yourself … A stunning novel of love, betrayal and family secrets for all fans of Fiona McIntosh and Natasha Lester. After a shocking discovery, Grace Woods leaves her vast Australian sheep station and travels to tumultuous post-war Paris in order to find her true identity.
While working as a mannequin for Christian Dior, the world’s newly acclaimed emperor of fashion, Grace mixes with counts and princesses, authors and artists, diplomats and politicians.
But when Grace falls for handsome Philippe Boyer she doesn’t know that he is leading a double life, nor that his past might inflict devastating consequences upon her. As she is drawn into Philippe’s dangerous world of international espionage, Grace discovers both the shattering truth of her origins – and that her life is in peril.
Inspired by an astonishing true story, The Paris Model is a tale of glamour, family secrets and heartbreak that takes you from the rolling plains of country Australia to the elegant salons of Paris.
Grace Woods hasn’t had it easy, she was the only person with her father when he died of a heart attack, her eager swain went off to war and when he came back he was a different man, and her mother…well her mother always expected so much from her. There was one constant in her childhood, her Siddy, a friend of her parents, who opened her eyes to the world.
After marrying her beloved Jack when he returns from the war, Grace realises that she has missed out on a lot in life, as with most women of the time she went straight from the family home to a marital one. Her husband is a cruel and demanding man who is dismissive of Grace and her desire for something more than she has on the farm.
It’s understandable that when an opportunity arises that will get her away from a life that is making her miserable, she is going to take it.
With the chance to go to Paris and model for Christian Dior, Grace makes her escape and doesn’t look back.
What happens once she arrives in Paris, I admit, confused me.The political machinations of France post-war were not something we learned in history class. Assassination attempts, powerful politicians, an attempt from dissatisfied communists to rise up and take over. None of these things were issues I had learned about, so admittedly, doing my own research, curious to find out more, sent me down a rabbit hole.
The history of France is a fascinating one, and this book brought much to light.
One thing that I really enjoyed about the book was the fact that though there were clear differences between the rights of women and men (still are, let’s be honest) and they were highlighted in the book, it was not handled in a heavy-handed way. They were noticed, they were mentioned but they weren’t reviewed using the modern perspective – which can sometimes ruin the flow (I feel) of a story that is meant to be of its time. One example of this was when Grace applied for a passport so that she could escape her life in Australia and head to Paris. That she has to sneak around to get it and hope that her husband is not made aware of her application because women weren’t able to get passports without that until 1983 (a fact highlighted in the author notes), is astonishing. 1983? That’s insane. However, this is the way that things were and instead of starting a diatribe about feminism and the right to make our own decisions (which is true), Grace simply accepts that this is the way things are and does her best to work around it.
Grace herself was an interesting character, though sometimes I found her a little frustrating. Especially in the way that she so quickly makes assumptions about her mother when she discovers that her parentage isn’t quite what she expected. This is the moment I realised that she wasn’t as mature as she initially came across and perhaps some of her expectations were unrealistic or maybe just unformed. Through her experiences, she slowly matures when she is in Paris, and her relationship with Phillipe – who is in some ways the epitome of a romantic hero (a little mysterious and the sort of man you’d imagine in a 1950s movie would be wearing a beret, smoking a Galoise and sitting in a beatnik poetry reading clicking his fingers – I know, cliche or what).
The book, just like The Royal Correspondent, made me think, it made me do some research into events that I previously had no idea had occurred, and it was well written. Joel clearly does a lot of digging to create the characters, or to build on people who actually existed. In the case of The Paris Model, I learned a lot and came away from the book with a desire to know more – hence the research.
This book was a strong 3.75 stars out of 5 for me. I would have rated it higher but there were times that I struggled to warm to Grace, especially when it came to her relationship with her mother and the way she judged her for something without giving her a chance to explain. However, the history and the way she brought Paris in the late 40s to life was incredible.
- Intriguing history lesson set in a glamorous world
- Grace’s back story was a mystery that I wanted to solve
- Occasionally our lead character, Grace, could be incredibly frustrating