February 8, 2016

Book Review: I'll See You in Paris by Michelle Gable

Publication Date: February 9, 2016

Source: Vine and Netgalley

The enigmatic Lady Marlborough

I’ll See You in Paris is based on the real life of Gladys Spencer-Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough, a woman whose life was so rich and storied it could fill several books.  Years later a woman’s quest to understand the Duchess takes her from a charming hamlet in the English countryside to a dilapidated manse kept behind barbed wire, and ultimately to Paris, where answer will be found at last.

Michelle Gable wowed me with A Paris Apartment so I knew I couldn’t miss her follow-up, which I assumed from the title would again be set in Paris. The novel does eventually move on to Paris, but not until it spends most of its delightful time in a crumbling English country estate with a sharp-tongued, flamboyant old woman tottering around with a gun, a menagerie of dogs and cats, and a maybe imaginary Polish handyman who lives in her barn.

Mrs. Spencer may or may not be the legendary beauty of a bygone era, Gladys Deacon/Duchess of Marlborough, now retired to the country and trying to run off greedy heirs and nosy relatives from interfering in her life. Pru is a young American hired by Mrs. Spencer’s relatives to help her (against her wishes) and Win is a writer who is convinced that Mrs. Spencer is in fact Lady Marlborough and is trying to write a story about her life. Mrs. Spencer lets Pru and Win into her home with great (and colorful) resistance and the two are never the same again.

“Trouble was, though Win Seton felt so bloody sure that she was Gladys Deacon, he forgot the most elemental thing about the duchess.  Namely, that she lived only in half-truths and the best lighting, and, most important of all, the long-lost duchess of Marlborough never, ever played by the rules.”

As long as the narrative focused on Mrs. Spencer – it was lively and entertaining. But as soon as it went back to the present-day narrative of those looking back and trying to piece together the mysteries of the past, it lost a little of the momentum, mostly because the reader could pretty much figure out who was who much earlier than the modern-day character. Although, Gable does manage to pull one unpredictable surprise towards the end that I did not see coming.

The character of Mrs. Spencer, as Gable writes her, is one of the most entertaining spitfires I’ve ever encountered. Apparently, the real Duchess of Marlborough was a firecracker too, as the many lively quotes attributed to her clearly show.

Gladys Deacon as painted by Giovanni Boldini

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