The Light of Paris

Image of The Light of Paris
Release Date: 
July 11, 2016
G.P. Putnam's Sons
Reviewed by: 

What happens when a creative woman does what she's supposed to instead of what she wants most? Is parental approval and the security of marrying well worth a life heavy with obligation and light on everything you really wanted?

Madeleine has it all: the handsome successful husband, stylish home, regular invitations to  society's best ladies’ associations, meaningful charity work—or does she? After an argument with her husband, Phillip, she retreats to her hometown in hamlet-like Magnolia to visit her disapproving mother and do some soul searching.

Soon after arriving she is stunned to learn her mother has decided to sell her too large family home and move to an upscale condo. Madeleine seizes the opportunity to extend her stay under the guise of helping her mother sort through a lifetime of memories and possessions.

Life with her mother is as disconcerting as life with Phillip, both relentless in reminding her she is too fat, too cumbersome, too not right.

She escapes to the attic where she often retreated to paint when she was growing up. Her art is one of the many things her mother and Phillip never supported and cajoled her to give up because it didn't fit the person she "should" be.

Being in the attic rekindles her love of painting.

In between painting, she keeps sorting through old boxes and trunks finds her grandmother's journals. Reading them shows her a side of her grandmother she never knew, and she is transported back to jazz-era Paris, when her grandmother was a young, aspiring writer and briefly head over heels in love. She also learns a stunning family secret.

The Light of Paris tells both Madeleine’s and her grandmother, Margie's story. Both are unrequited artists, with disapproving, critical mothers, and a high-society family fixated on appearances and burdened with proper obligation. Neither woman fits in, and both sorely lack self-confidence. This submission to duty is more understandable with Margie because she lived in a time when it was common for women to not have a voice. Madeleine acquiesces to Phillip's and her mother's insensitive criticism and demands, and her lack of backbone to stand up for what she knows she wants sometimes borders on exasperating. It takes talent to craft a passive character with low self-image and have her be someone readers want to be around. For the most part, Eleanor Brown finds the balance of enough self-loathing to convey Madeleine's unhappiness, only sporadically tipping the scale into bleak, unappealing neediness.

Brown creates an appealing contrast in the sense of place and time in Margie's flapper-era Paris and Madeleine's small town Magnolia ambiance.

Ultimately, The Light of Paris is a well written women's lit coming of age story as these two women struggle to salvage their passion for art and romance and finally create their own chance to choose for themselves.