Genre: Historical Fiction
Synopsis: When sixteen-year-old Maude runs away to Paris, her romantic dreams vanish as quickly as her savings. Increasingly desperate for money, she answers a mysterious advert: ‘Young Women Wanted for Undemanding Work. Apply In Person To The Durandeau Agency.’ But the work is very strange indeed. Maude discovers she is to be a repoussoir – an ugly young woman hired by Parisian socialites to enhance their beauty.
Maude is humiliated – but faced with destitution, what choice does she have? Quickly (and secretly) selected as the perfect companion for the Countess Dubern’s daughter Isabelle, Maude is thrown into a decadent world full of parties, glamour and astonishing cruelty. Maude finds that academic Isabelle is equally disenchanted with the Parisian social scene, and the girls form a tight bond. But when bohemian artist Paul and the handsome Duke d’Avaray are introduced into the girls’ lives, their friendship will be tested to its limits. The girls are about to discover the true meaning of being beautiful…
200words (or less) review: I really enjoyed the concept behind Belle Époque, it’s a fascinating read. Honestly I knew next to nothing about this Parisian time prior to reading this book. I requested Belle Époque because of the blurb and the other reviews I’d seen and I certainly enjoyed myself throughout.
Maude is very likeable at the beginning of the book and the presentation (interview) she has at The Durandeau Agency is harrowing from her perspective. As Maude comes to terms with being ‘plain’ and learning her role you get to know more of the other girls, which I loved.
My favourite character was actually Isabelle. Her and Maude swapped over around the halfway point. For me, Maude took a long time to stand up for herself.
Belle Époque didn’t disappoint, Elizabeth Ross has written an interesting book with varied and fun characters. The observations (both from Maude and others) as to what is “beauty” is provides plenty of discussion. I imagine this being an excellent book-club choice.