Summary and book reviews of De Potter's Grand Tour by Joanna Scott

De Potter's Grand Tour

by Joanna Scott

De Potter's Grand Tour by Joanna Scott X
De Potter's Grand Tour by Joanna Scott
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2014, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2015, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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About this Book

Book Summary

A gripping novel about a seemingly charmed marriage and a mysterious disappearance at sea.

In 1905, a tourist agent and amateur antiques collector named Armand de Potter mysteriously disappeared off the coast of Greece. His body is never recovered and his wife is left to manage his affairs on her own. But as she starts to piece together his life, she realizes that everything was not as he had said. Infused with details from letters and diary entries, the narrative twists forward and backward through time, revealing a lost world of fake identities, underground antiques networks, and a husband who wasn't what he seemed.

Originally from Belgium, young Armand de Potter comes to New York without a penny in his pocket. With cunning ambition, he quickly makes a name for himself as both a worldwide travel guide and a trusted - if illegal - antiques dealer. After marrying, he moves the family to a luxurious villa in Cannes and embraces an aristocratic life. But as he grows increasingly entangled in the antiques trade and his touring business begins to falter, Armand's control starts to fray. As the world closes in, he believes he only has one option left.

Told with masterful narrative agility, De Potter's Grand Tour is a tale as grand as the tour guide at its center. Drawing on real letters, legal documents, and a trove of diaries only recently discovered, Joanna Scott points delicately toward the story's historical basis and unfolds a detective tale of the highest order.

Constantinople

HE LEAVES EARLY on the morning of June 10, descending the carpeted stairs to the lobby of the Pera Palace Hotel. He rings the bell at the front desk. He is about to ring again when a clerk appears from the dark interior of a back office, looking freshly scrubbed, smelling of soap. The bill is settled swiftly, and the clerk is most obliging, despite his limited French, when Armand hands him two last letters addressed to Madame de Potter, care of the Hotel Royal in Toblach. The letters are to be held and posted, he specifies, on the twelfth. Does the clerk understand the instructions? "Oui, monsieur," the clerk says, setting aside the letters and motioning to a porter. He hopes Monsieur de Potter's most recent stay has been pleasant. The coach, he adds, is already in the drive.

Outside, Armand notices that the gas lamp above the entrance to the public garden is still lit, though the sky is already beginning to glow with dawn. He removes his spectacles and rubs the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What does the novel reveal about the nature of marriage? How well can we ever know another person, even a life partner?

  2. What were your theories about Armand's disappearance? How did your impressions of him shift?

  3. What is at the heart of Armand's financial woes? Does he crave elevated social status because he's an illegitimate grandson of Louis de Potter, or is it simply part of his personality?

  4. What motivates De Potter's customers to travel abroad, despite the potential hazards and discomforts? What do vacationers seek when they choose to visit a foreign country?

  5. How were you affected by the photographs that appear throughout the novel? What realities do they capture in this work of fiction?

  6. In his dealings with ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

De Potter’s Grand Tour is based on author Joanna Scott’s own family history — her great-grandfather also disappeared mysteriously. Even if the text is punctuated with pictures (one assumes they are of the great-grandfather and his charmed travels), it is unclear how much overlap there is between reality and fiction. Regardless, the novel is touted first and foremost as a detective story, but the mystery at the heart of the book is transparent enough to have the narrative’s charms lie elsewhere. De Potter’s Grand Tour succeeds brilliantly in its evocation of world travel at the turn of the twentieth century — the romance of a bygone era of managed leisure really shines through.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Full Review (591 words).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Scott has crafted an understated, atmospheric historical novel as well as an artful mystery set in an era of steamer ships and steam trains, when tourism was new and world travel was a glamorous and sometimes-perilous adventure.

Author Blurb Peter Ho Davies, author of The Welsh Girl
Joanna Scott is a writer to treasure and her beguiling new novel is an intrepid exploration of the world, of the past, and of the human heart.

Author Blurb Andrea Barrett, author of Archangel and Ship Fever
Joanna Scott's writing is always a wonder, but this, with its hints of Hawthorne's 'Wakefield,' is her best yet: a wizardly dialogue between fact and fiction, the known and the unknown. I'll be haunted by her elusive, touching, and deluded hero for a long time.

Author Blurb Steve Erickson, author of These Dreams of You
Scott charts here one of her grandest tours yet, one more utterly singular story only she could have written.

Author Blurb Bradford Morrow, author of The Diviner's Tale
Like some exquisite and mysterious tapestry that Armand de Potter himself might have admired on one of his journeys, Joanna Scott's new novel masterfully weaves an irresistible story of love, secrecy, ambition, and devastating folly.

Author Blurb Jaimy Gordon, author of Lord of Misrule
Only one of our wisest, deftest, most knowing prose stylists at the height of her powers could have invented the utterly beguiling experience that is De Potter's Grand Tour...One of the most delightful books I've read in years.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Trafficking in Antiquities

In De Potter's Grand Tour, Armand de Potter uses his tourism business as a front to amass a large private collection of illicit antiquities: "You could say that he had become a spy of sorts, on a self-contained mission to gather antiquities instead of secrets, with his travel bureau providing an excuse to visit places that were out of reach for other collectors," Scott writes.

UNESCO logoWhile Armand's collection stems mostly from Egypt, the trade in illicit antiquities spans the globe, including Iraq, Peru, Cambodia, Afghanistan and more. In terms of sheer dollars generated, the business is next only to the trades in drugs and weapons. In 1970, 70 countries signed a UNESCO agreement intended to ban the trafficking of stolen antiquities, but ...

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