Summary and book reviews of To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin

To Capture What We Cannot Keep

by Beatrice Colin

To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin X
To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2016, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2017, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Davida Chazan

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

1

February 1886

THE SAND ON THE Champ de Mars was powdered with snow. A huge blue-and-white-striped hot-air balloon swooned on its ropes in front of the École Militaire, the gondola tethered to a small wooden platform strung out with grubby yellow bunting. Three figures, two women and a man, hurried from a hired landau on the avenue de Suffren across the parade ground toward the balloon.

"Attendez," called out Caitriona Wallace. "Nous arrivons!"

As she paused on the steps to wait for the other two, Cait's vision spun with tiny points of light in a darkening fog. She had laced tight that morning, pulling until the eyeholes in her corset almost met, and now her chest rose and fell in shallow gasps as she tried to catch her breath—in, out, in and out.

"We made it," said Jamie Arrol as he reached her. "That was a close thing."

"Here are the tickets," she told him. "You get on board. Your sister is just coming."

In the wicker gondola twenty people waited impatiently, the men in bell...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Discuss the novel's epigraph, by Gustave Eiffel: "Before they meet at such an impressive height, the uprights appear to spring out of the ground, molded in a way by the action of the wind itself." What sort of tone does the epigraph establish? How does it resonate with the novel that follows?
  2. Caitriona is very much a woman constrained—by her status as a widow, by her poverty and her fall from high society, even by the clothes she wears. In our introduction to her, on the novel's first page, Beatrice Colin writes, "She had laced tight that morning, pulling until the eye holes in her corset almost met, and now her chest rose and fell in shallow gasps as she tried to catch her breath—in, out, in and out." Were you therefore ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about To Capture What We Cannot Keep. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.

Caitriona is very much a woman constrained—by her status as a widow, by her poverty and her fall from high society, even by the clothes she wears. Were you therefore surprised by how her story turned out?
I was not surprised. She was a strong self sufficient person. She never felt fully comfortable in any of her prior roles. She had limited her choices and gained her freedom by rejecting the proposal.the possibility of a future restored relationship ... - henryw

Discuss the important role the Parisian art world plays in the novel. Were you surprised at the contemporary reactions to now-beloved Impressionist painters? How does the aesthetic of the Eiffel Tower fit in (or clash) with Impressionism?
The negative opinions of the tower and the Impressionists show that it can take a long time for people to appreciate something that is new and different - normar

Discuss the novel's epigraph, by Gustave Eiffel. What sort of tone does it establish? How does it resonate with the novel that follows?
Much like the tower is molded by "the action of the wind," the characters are molded by the rules and restrictions of their places in a rigid societal structure. - sandrah

Discuss the portrayal of class in To Capture What We Cannot Keep. How is class tied to material wealth, education, social status, and family? How do the classes mix in the novel, and what is the fallout?
I thought the idea of class was done well in the book. But you could sense this shift in the class structure in Paris. What influence did art and the Impressionist movement play in this? It seemed to make more things possible for men of course, but ... - linz

Do you find Gabrielle likable or sympathetic? Did your opinion of her change as the novel progressed? What of the characters in general?
I didn’t like her. Too manipulative and selfish. I tried to have empathy for her but it was very hard to. - lindas

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The extra bonus is how gently Colin writes her prose, which I found to be sophisticated without being bombastic. Poetic interludes, describing the scenery and settings, work well without sounding clichéd. Colin's use of language also fits with the era she writes about, and helps contribute to the overall atmosphere of the book.   (Reviewed by Davida Chazan).

Full Review (626 words).

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Media Reviews

Booklist

Drawn with care and suffused with stylish ambience, Colin's (The Glimmer Palace, 2008) Paris is a city of painters, eccentric aristocrats, desperate prostitutes, secret lovers, and the magnificent artistic vision taking shape high above them. Devotees of the Belle Époque should relish every word.

Kirkus Reviews

A novel of soaring ambitions, public and private.

Library Journal

Starred Review. To be in Paris to witness the construction of the Eiffel Tower is a magnificent occasion: to have a hand, however small, in its building, even better…This exquisitely written, shadowy historical novel will appeal to a wide variety of readers, including fans of the Belle Époque.

Author Blurb David Gillham, New York Times bestselling author of City of Women
It is a must-read for every fan of Paris, for every fan of the fight for love against the odds, and for every fan of great and deeply satisfying storytelling.

Author Blurb Chris Bohjalian, New York Times bestselling author of The Guest Room and The Light in Ruins
While Beatrice Colin captures the excitement that surrounded the construction of the Eiffel Tower, the real lights of Paris are the women and men she created whose stories I avidly followed.

Author Blurb Kate Alcott, New York Times bestselling author of The Dressmaker


A compelling story of love constricted by the demands of separate social classes. Told against the splendidly absorbing background of the building of the Eiffel Tower, it emerges as fresh and different. A captivating read.

Reader Reviews

Maxine D

Enjoyed the Descriptions of Paris and The Eiffel Tower
I took a while to get into the book although I found it very easy to read and I was immediately drawn into to the setting and the characters. It wasn't until the end that the story and the characters truly came together for me. I thought they could ...   Read More

Dorothy L

An Interesting Read
On the whole I liked this book. I enjoyed reading about the time period and construction of the Eiffel Tower. The perspectives and opportunities for women of that time was an important focus of the book. I did find it slow at times especially at the...   Read More

Vicki Hill

Capturing the Future
In Paris, as the Eiffel Tower is being built, Cait, a Scottish widow, and Emile, an engineer in the Tower project, struggle to move forward, together or apart. We see the impact of new technologies and opportunities on every aspect of peoples’ lives...   Read More

Bev C

To Capture What We Cannot Keep
A focal point of this work of historical fiction is the construction of the Eiffel Tower, 1887-1889. The novel details the relationship between a young Scottish widow of humble means, in Paris as chaperone to two wealthy Scottish charges, and a ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Gustav Eiffel's Legacy

Drawing of the Eiffel TowerWhile looking into the real personalities of the characters in Beatrice Colin's To Capture What We Cannot Keep, I came to realize just how enlightening this book actually is, simply because of the hints Colin gives us into a time in history about which most of us know only a tiny part. Yes, we all know the Eiffel Tower, but little about Eiffel himself, nor do we know the other masterful civil engineers and architects of the time. For example, French engineer Émile Nouguier and Swiss engineer Maurice Koechlin designed and patented the pylons for the Eiffel Tower, without which the structure wouldn't have succeeded. Prior to this, Koechlin collaborated with none other than Gustav Eiffel for the structural elements required to build the ...

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