The Velvet Hours
By Alyson Richman
Berkley, 2016. 384 pages. Historical Fiction
As Paris is confronted with the looming threat of German occupation in 1942, Solange Beaugiron is shocked to learn that the grandmother she never knew is alive and living in an apartment in the city. As Solange begins to visit with her grandmother, Marthe de Florian, she learns of her life as a courtesan during La Belle Epoque, and the cultivated art and beauty that she has surrounded herself with. Most striking is a magnificent portrait of Marthe painted by the noted Italian artist Giovanni Boldini. Solange is captivated by her grandmother's story, but as the German troops near, she's not sure if there will be enough time to hear it all.
I remember reading news articles a few years ago about an apartment in Paris that lay untouched for 70 years. I was intrigued, but at the time I didn't quite gather how fascinating the life of the original occupant was. Richman has taken what research is available about about Marthe de Florian and built a story around it to fill in the spaces, albeit fictionally, of what we know. What resulted is a captivating book about life in France between La Belle Epoch and World War II. The centerpoint of the real apartment - a stunning portrait of de Florian by Giovanni Boldini, is woven into the story in exquisite detail. Although the twin stories of Solange and Marthe are a bit oddly juxtaposed at times, Richman has created a very satisfying story for anyone whose curiosity is piqued by this story of an abandoned-apartment-turned-time-capsule.
This book is an "Always Available" audiobook on Overdrive, meaning that there is no wait to read it.