Because Paris is always a good idea…
Years ago, Juliet left a little piece of her heart in Paris – and now, separated from her husband and with her children flying the nest, it’s time to get it back! So she puts on her best red lipstick, books a cosy attic apartment near Notre-Dame and takes the next train out of London.
Arriving at the Gare du Nord, the memories come flooding back: bustling street cafés, cheap wine in candlelit bars and a handsome boy with glittering eyes. But Juliet has also been keeping a secret for over two decades – and she begins to realise it’s impossible to move forwards without first looking back.
Something tells her that the next thirty days might just change everything…
I hadn’t read any of Veronica Henry’s novels until I did a blog tour for her novel The Impulse Purchase. I found it delightfully escapist and optimistic while exploring female relationships, especially familial ones, in an interesting way. In her new novel we’re more focused on one woman; Juliet is a middle-aged, ghost-writer who’s at a huge crossroads in life. She and her husband have taken the very brave decision to separate as their last child leaves home for university. Most of their friends think they’re crazy, because the couple still get along, they’re probably the best of friends in fact. However, they feel they’ve drifted into two different paths. As her husband has embraced all things cycling – including the Lycra and the diet – Juliet isn’t enamoured and would rather curl up with a good book or go to the theatre. They’ve each become comfortable in their own routines and as the time to sell their large family home has come around, they can’t see the point of trying to meld their differing lifestyles into another joint home. So each will take half of the house sale and do their own thing and Juliet would like to take a trip into her past. Years ago, when she was still a teenager, Juliet went to work as an au pair in Paris, but returned in shame and sadness only a few month later. She has rented an apartment for a month to reacquaint herself with the city and spend some time writing her own story. However, revisiting the past is never easy and Juliet finds there are experiences she still needs to process and come to terms with.
I found reading this book a little lie watching Sex and the City or perhaps more aptly, Emily in Paris which I binge-watched over the Christmas period. Everything about Juliet’s time in Paris is simply gorgeous from the description of the patisseries near her apartment, to the clothes worn by her friend ….. and the work Juliet starts on her book project. Thanks to the two series mentioned, along with a teenage diet of Judith Krantz novels, I find Paris ridiculously romantic and imagine it full of quirky shops, artists, vintage bookshops and incredibly elegant women. Every walk she takes I was imagining the decorative shop windows, acres of pastel coloured macarons and fairy lit trees, not to mention the incredible bridges, cathedrals and art galleries. I’m also a sucker for transformation shows like the old Gok Wan and those wedding shows where people choose their dress and I also had that vibe too. This might seem like I’m making the book sound trivial or all about appearances, but it’s far from that. This isn’t just about visual transformation. The author takes what can be a difficult period in a woman’s life: empty nest syndrome; menopause; relationship breakdown and that sense of having lost who you are. Veronica Henry takes us into that process of grieving and growth and I kept reading in the hope Juliet would come to that place of finding herself – the person she is now and the way she wants the rest of her life to be. Before she can do that she needs to face what happened all those years ago when she was such a young girl and just starting out in life.
I really felt for the younger Juliet and these sections leapt off the page. I loved how brave she was in leaving her cozy home and family to do something completely different. That sense of being a fish out of water really comes across as she tries to settle into the apartment of the French family she’ll be living with. Her French is minimal and I could feel the nerves as she tries to fit in, especially when the children’s mother is quite volatile and erratic in mood. However, the father seems kind and tries to make Juliet feel at home by taking her out for Sunday lunch with the children. Juliet comes across as a kind young girl, good with the children and concerned about their mother whose moods fluctuate between treating Juliet like a little sister and angry, tearful outbursts. I warmed to Juliet because she doesn’t become angry or resentful, but is worried that her employer is struggling as a working mum of three children and perhaps needs extra support. I had concerns about the way the children’s father acted around Juliet early on and couldn’t decide whether he was trying to make her feel like family, or whether the late nights, sharing a bottle of wine, might lead to more. Juliet’s affections are completely engaged by Luke as soon as they meet. Her friend calls it a ‘coup de foudre’ or love at first sight and it does seem to be an immediate connection, as if their souls know each other before they even speak the same language. In the present day sections, Juliet hints at a disastrous ending to her time in Paris and a separation from Luke that leaves unfinished business. I wondered whether she would feel the urge to reconnect and explain what happened all those years before.
If you’re looking for an enjoyable, escapist read this winter/spring then this is definitely the book for you. Juliet is interesting and her earlier years in Paris really help us understand her character’s choices later on. I wondered how much her stable, but safe, marriage was a response to these early romantic mistakes and terrible heartbreak. I would say that her return to Paris, especially her rekindled friendship with Nathalie, brings out her spontaneous and playful side. Nathalie takes risks, from visiting less salubrious parts of the city, to accepting random invitations and wearing some quirky outfits. Their friendship picks up where they left off and I would definitely be the demographic buying Nathalie’s memoir and cookbook. I loved the way Juliet tackled what happened in the past and it showed the difference in attitudes between then and now; where once Juliet took on a lot of the blame, she can now see other people’s part in what happened and how they took advantage of her naivety. While I wasn’t necessarily rooting for a romantic ending to the story I was rooting for Juliet to build a totally new life for herself where she’s with the people who inspire her. I enjoyed the ending and felt it worked well for the character, especially when a call from home dangles her old safe life in front of her. I wanted her to continue growing and trying new things, because just reading about it felt like taking a holiday.
Meet The Author
I was so interested in reading Veronica’s author section on Amazon because it’s so personal. So I’ve reproduced part of it below.
‘People often ask me what kind of books I write and it’s a very difficult question to answer in one sentence. Primarily, I love to take my readers somewhere they might like to be, whether a gorgeous house in the countryside or on a seaside clifftop. There, my characters go through the trials and tribulation of everyday life, embroiled in situations and dilemmas we can all relate to. Love is at the heart of it, but all kinds of love, not just romantic: the love of friends and family, or a place, or a passion for what you enjoy (food, wine and books, in my case . . .)
I have a background in writing television drama (Heartbeat, Holby City) so that has been an influence – creating lots of characters whose lives impact on each other. Working on The Archers I was taught ‘Make ’em laugh; make ’em cry; but above all, make ’em wait’!
I hope my books are beautifully written, uplifting and a little bit escapist. I’d love to know what you think, so do leave a review. Or you can contact me via Twitter @veronica_henry, or on Facebook or Instagram @veronicahenryauthor
A little bit about me: I live by the sea and head to the beach every day with my dog Zelda. I love cooking and discovering new restaurants on city breaks, with a bit of yoga to offset the calories – and I’ve just bought an e-bike. My biggest writing influences are HE Bates, Nancy Mitford, Jilly Cooper and any book that has a big rambling house and an eccentric family.’ From http://www.amazon.co.uk