When Maude Pichon runs away from provincial Brittany to Paris, her romantic dreams vanish as quickly as her savings. Desperate for work, she answers an unusual ad. The Durandeau Agency provides its clients with a unique service—the beauty foil. Hire a plain friend and become instantly more attractive.
Monsieur Durandeau has made a fortune from wealthy socialites, and when the Countess Dubern needs a companion for her headstrong daughter, Isabelle, Maude is deemed the perfect foil.
But Isabelle has no idea her new “friend” is the hired help, and Maude’s very existence among the aristocracy hinges on her keeping the truth a secret. Yet the more she learns about Isabelle, the more her loyalty is tested. And the longer her deception continues, the more she has to lose.
(Summary from Goodreads)
I had a hard time getting into this book initially, but after taking a break, I was hooked. I don’t know if it was just the mood I was in when I started the book, or if things just clicked for me in the second half, but ultimately, Belle Epoque was a powerful story of a girl realizing her own worth.
I love how 1880s France came to life. The glittering life of the aristocracy seemed extra-glittery through Maude’s eyes, and the bohemian stuff reminded me of Moulin Rouge!, one of my favorite movies. Also, I really liked Paul – Maude’s musician friend – as a character, although his romance with Maude fell flat for me.
And Maude. Oh, Maude. I had such a love-hate relationship with her, although more emphasis on the love because I could understand her choices, and I really felt for her by the end. There were so many times I wanted to slap her upside the head, especially as the story went on and she got sucked more and more into the aristocratic lifestyle. At first she joined the agency out of desperation – between going home to have her self-esteem crushed, or staying in Paris to have her self-esteem crushed but at least being paid for it, her choice made a lot of sense. However, we see over the course of the story how much Maude comes to love the aristocracy, and not just for the luxury: this is the first time in her life she’s felt accepted, and it’s not a feeling she’s eager to let go of. And by the end of the story, Maude comes to realize that the only person who needs to accept her is herself. And that is what makes this book so powerful.
It changes you, losing someone so important as a child. I had no mirror of love telling me I was beautiful or special and could achieve anything. After my mother died, that mirror was gone. And I lived without that echo of love and confidence until I found it, once more, in Paris.
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars