The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown
Madeleine is trapped—by her family’s expectations, by her controlling husband, and by her own fears—in an unhappy marriage and a life she never wanted. From the outside, it looks like she has everything, but on the inside, she fears she has nothing that matters.
In Madeleine’s memories, her grandmother Margie is the kind of woman she should have been—elegant, reserved, perfect. But when Madeleine finds a diary detailing Margie’s bold, romantic trip to Jazz Age Paris, she meets the grandmother she never knew: a dreamer who defied her strict, staid family and spent an exhilarating summer writing in cafés, living on her own, and falling for a charismatic artist.
Despite her unhappiness, when Madeleine’s marriage is threatened, she panics, escaping to her hometown and staying with her critical, disapproving mother. In that unlikely place, shaken by the revelation of a long-hidden family secret and inspired by her grandmother’s bravery, Madeleine creates her own Parisian summer—reconnecting to her love of painting, cultivating a vibrant circle of creative friends, and finding a kindred spirit in a down-to-earth chef who reminds her to feed both her body and her heart.
Margie and Madeleine’s stories intertwine to explore the joys and risks of living life on our own terms, of defying the rules that hold us back from our dreams, and of becoming the people we are meant to be.
Reading The Light of Paris was a study in contrasts - one half was delightful and romantic while the other half was tedious and exasperating. Margie's narrative was fitting - set in 1924, her struggle for independence and freedom of expression made sense. Especially in the context of Jazz Age Paris, her search for her true self is intriguing. Contrast that with Madeleine's existential dilemma to be married to a cold narcissist ... or not. I couldn't really sympathize with her angst, considering that her narrative was set in 1999. The struggle of should I be a trophy wife and go to endless committee meetings or paint just earned eyerolls and impatient groans from me. It's 1999, leave him and do your thing. Staying married to keep up appearances and not disappoint your overbearing mother seemed like an anachronistic dilemma. Not worth endless chapters of internal monologue.
At least I had Paris in the alternating chapters:
Paris was none of those things. It was bread and cheese for dinner in the Luxembourg Gardens, or a cheap plate at Rosalie’s at ten o’clock at night. Paris was parties lasting until dawn, where you danced until you were breathless and drank until the world itself seemed to have become unmoored, the floor unsteady beneath your feet. Paris was sunrises and sunsets, was art and music and books and the people who made them, unstoppable around you. Paris was endless music and endless joy, and to get married, to change anything at all, would have ruined it.