Released: June 11, 2013
You can read the Goodreads summary here.
Why oh why did I wait so long to read this book? I got it out of the library as soon as the had it available then renewed it twice, ran out of time and returned it. I immediately checked the book out again then renewed it twice and decided it was now or never - I read this book two days before it was due and as soon as I'm done typing up this review, I'm driving to the library to return it. Guys, GUYS - don't make the same mistake I made, I absolutely loved and adored this book and I'm mad at myself for renewing it for twelve weeks, preventing anyone else from checking it out and loving it, too.
Maude, a spunky young girl in France during the mid-ninteenth century, runs away from home when she discovers her father has betrothed her to the butcher. Knowing there's more for her in this life than to be a wife to a small town butcher, she flees to Paris with a vague job ad in her hand. But when she applies for the job in person and is accepted she learns what the job is really about - she's now a repoussoir. The agency hires unattractive young women who are then rented by wealthy families to stand near their debutante daughters at society events to make their daughters look more attractive.
This concept was a little stunning to me. Sure in real life people sometimes make friends with the less attractive to feel better about themselves - hello, it's called middle school - but I had no idea this was an actual business is nineteenth century France, and the authors note at the end of the book confirmed it. I immediately felt for Maude. It must be humiliating and horribly bad for one's self esteem to be reminded of one's flaws every single day. However, the pay was excellent and Maude took it in such stride most of the time that I was much more interested in her interactions with her client and her client's family.
Maude is immediately hired out by a countess for her daughter, whose first season is about to start. But the catch here is that Maude has been hired for the entire season and the daughter is never to find out. Maude is to befriend Isabelle and then report back to her mother about potential suitors. Plots like this never end well, in books or real life, so I knew some high class drama was on the way and was it ever. But aside from that, we learned a lot about Isabelle, who wasn't your standard young debutante. In fact, I absolutely adored Isabelle! She had her own dreams and she wasn't going to let her mother's dream of her marrying rich get in the way - until Maude stepped in and suddenly had the moral dilemma of doing her job, or helping a new friend. I won't spoil it - but you'll be surprised and you must read this book!
Five stars! I love you, Belle Epoque, and I'm sorry I neglected you for so long. It's back to the library now where hopefully someone else will pick you up and love you just as much.