January 23, 2017

To Capture What We Cannot Keep - Beatrice Colin

Flatiron Books, November 29, 2016.

Four Stars

To Capture What We Cannot Keep is a historical romance set against the backdrop of the construction of the Eiffel Tower in 1887. Caitriona is a widow working as a chaperone, who travels to Paris with her two young charges – a wealthy brother and sister who have come to Europe to gain experience before marriage. Cait is supposed to be helping Alice meet eligible bachelors, but when they are introduced to Emile Nouguier, engineer and co-designer of the tower, he is more interested in Cait.

Emile and Caitriona first meet in a whimsical scene, travelling over Paris by hot air balloon. They are living in a revolutionary time, filled with contrasts – while Cait feels compelled to follow the traditional lifestyle of a widowed woman, she is also intrigued by the bohemian world she finds herself in. The novel asks questions about class and gender, and whether the constraints of either one can be overcome.

Caitriona and her young companions experience the glamour and intrigue of 19th century Paris, but they also witness the dark underbelly of the city, including its brothels and opium dens. It was fascinating to read about the details of art and society, and especially the construction of the Eiffel Tower, which I did not know much about. And even with all this historical information, it never felt overwhelming – the facts were always presented as a natural part of the story.

I wasn’t completely captivated by any of the characters, and the love story fell flat (although I did like the imperfect ending), but what made this book so enjoyable is the beautiful setting – Colin truly captured the excitement and innovation of the era. I loved reading about the rise of the Impressionists and the great strides in architecture – everything is so novel and thrilling. The Eiffel Tower was the largest manmade structure at the time, and Emile’s character passionately describes the intricacies of its engineering techniques.

This novel has a slow, quiet pace, and yet it manages to confront some really important issues of morality, creating conflict between the characters. They feel compelled to fit into the constraints of the time period, even though they are trying to change society’s rules – especially Caitriona, who is stronger than she seems at first. If you’re looking for an intelligent, thoughtful romance novel, this is it – and you might learn a few things while you’re at it.

I received this book from Flatiron Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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