Paris has a reputation, a certain je ne sais quoi that has enchanted people (and readers) for years. Fueling this fascination further is Celia Bell’s debut novel, The Disenchantment, inspired by the real-life Affair of the Poisons, a period of scandal in French high society from 1677 to 1682. Bell takes us to a time when Paris was sensationalized by fortunetellers, love potions and poisons used by prominent people concerned for their wealth, reputation and romances.
Among them is Marie Catherine, the Baroness of Cardonnoy. Stuck in an unhappy marriage, Marie Catherine has realized that while money can’t buy happiness, it can provide frequent opportunities to rendezvous with her lover, Victoire Rose, Mademoiselle de Conti. The danger of their illicit affair being discovered only deepens the romance—that is, until a servant sees them kissing. However, he fails to recognize Victoire and instead reports to the baron that Marie Catherine is having an affair with a gentleman.
Furious, the baron goes to the home of Alain Lavoie, the artist commissioned to make a portrait of the baroness and their two children. Sure that Lavoie is the only man that had been near his wife, the baron assumes the painter’s guilt and orders his men to beat him to death. As fate would have it, the baron is murdered the same night. Marie Catherine is shocked by the news, at first wondering who could have done this, then overwhelmed by a sense of relief at never having to see the baron again. The pleasure is short-lived, however, and in the aftermath, Marie Catherine constructs a series of lies that backfire, leading others to believe that she used poison and witchcraft to rid herself of her husband.
Bell’s reliance on historical facts and actual people who lived through the Affair of the Poisons adds a thick layer of intrigue. The same can be said about her descriptions of the lifestyles of the rich and famous of the time, as well as her depictions of supporting characters—such as the lady’s maid Jeanne and police chief Gabriel de la Reynie—which add a wealth of information about 17th-century Paris. Through it all, Bell successfully keeps readers in suspense about who makes it through and who doesn’t.
For all those who love Paris, The Disenchantment delivers a juicy romance with plenty of twists.