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.
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 breathin, 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...
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).
While 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 we only know a tiny part. Yes, we all know the Eiffel Tower, but we know 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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