Call it serendipity, but when author Eleanor Brown stumbled upon a cache of letters chronicling her grandmother’s Jazz Age journey to Paris, the circa 1924 correspondence inspired a novel that pays homage to a chapter of her family’s history, but with a fictional and decidedly modern twist.
Readers who relished Brown’s debut novel, The Weird Sisters, will not be surprised to find that The Light of Paris is also rooted to the timeless themes of home and family, and the messy conflicts that ensue when venerable traditions are threatened by personal independence.
Brown’s latest heroine, 34-year-old Madeleine Spencer, has forfeited her dream of becoming an artist in order to please her controlling, judgmental mother and the country club set. One day, Madeline has had enough: She packs her bags, walks out on a miserable marriage and heads—where else?—from Chicago back South to her family home in Magnolia, where she discovers inspiration in her grandmother Margie’s journals.
If Madeleine’s narcissistic, stunningly handsome and successful spouse, Phillip, is painted with broad strokes that seem slightly implausible for a book set in 1999 (the couple is childless, but Phillip does not allow Madeleine to work), Brown can be forgiven: Without exception, the other characters populating her novel are achingly real.
Written in a dual narrative style, with colorful chapters from Margie in 1924, interspersed with modern-day chapters in Madeleine’s voice, this page-turner is sure to be a summer favorite with readers who have visited, and loved, Paris, as well as those who understand the tragedy of family history repeating itself. As Brown writes: “So it ran in the family, then, this estrangement. There was a sadness in my mother’s eyes I had never seen before, and it made my heart ache for her, and for myself. How had we spent our entire lives lying to each other? How had she denied herself to me—her real self—for so long?”
Still, it would be inaccurate to sum up The Light of Paris as entirely a mother-daughter story. Brown’s deft narrative touch has also created two love stories as well as an endearing cast of peripheral characters from Magnolia who keep the plot lively, and who, above all, prove that you can indeed go home again.