This book had so many great layers. At its heart was a story of two girls coming of age, trying to find happiness and themselves in a time when women had very little power. Effortlessly woven in with that, though, were all the tensions of the 18th century – the class tension between the estates, the tension between religion and science in the midst of the Enlightenment, the tension between what Lili wanted and what society’s gender expectations were – all of which hinted at what would be happening ten years after the end of the novel when all of these forces came together in the French Revolution. Corona did a great job bringing pre-Revolution France to life, even making it interesting for someone who doesn’t normally pay any attention at all to this time period.
Woven in with Lili’s story was the story of her mother, the famous Emilie du Chatelet. I enjoyed reading about Emilie, whose story paralleled her daughter’s very nicely, but when I’d started the book, the title and the summary on the back had made it sound like the book would center more on Lili’s journey to learn about her mother – which turned out to not really be the case at all. I wish the book had either centered on this more, or at least didn’t make it sound like this is what the book is actually about – I think either one would make for equally interesting reading, really.
There was also something toward the end of the book that I imagine was supposed to be some sort of plot twist – the mystery of why Lili’s father refuses to communicate her – but reading about Emilie and her story, I think it was sort of obvious from the beginning what the twist there was. I was sort of unimpressed by that, and I felt like a lot of what happened in the last 75-100 pages of the book tied things up a little too neatly.
On the whole, though, I recommend this book.