A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable

 

Imagine: an apartment left locked and undisturbed for 70 years.  This is exactly what happened in Paris in 1942 when Madame de Florian fled to the south of France during World War II.  Imagine.  My thanks to Lesley West, whose enthusiasm for ‘A Paris Apartment’ led me to read it.

A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable

‘Who were you, Madame?’

In Paris’s ninth arrondissement, an apartment has been closed for seventy years.  What treasures might it contain?  April Vogt, Sotheby’s continental furniture specialist, is happy to escape to Paris in order to find out.  April has some good memories of Paris, and a couple of reasons for wanting some time away from New York, away from her husband, Troy.

‘Together Madame de Florian’s things told a story, with the gilt and ostriches and all of it.’

Once in Paris, April discovers some beautiful pieces, including a portrait which she thinks is by one of the masters of the Belle Époque.  April is fairly certain that she has the painter correct, but who is the woman in the portrait?  When April finds some letters and journals written by the woman in the painting, she is sure she can authenticate the painting.  But now, April is intrigued by the woman and her story.  And surely, she thinks, the pieces will fetch more at auction, if they are given context within the life of their owner.

‘What’s an heirloom unless it means something to the person who has it?’

There are two stories in this novel: April’s story in the present, and the story of Marthe de Florian, (starting in 1892) the woman whose possessions are in the apartment.

While I mostly enjoyed the novel, I found Marthe de Florian’s story much more interesting than April’s.  I kept wanting to get back into the past, to learn more about Marthe, her life and the possessions she had acquired.  I also wanted to know more about how the apartment came to be abandoned, and the various links between the characters. If the period of the Belle Époque interests you, this is a novel you may well enjoy.

Ms Gable drew inspiration for her novel from an article about a real Parisian apartment that had been left abandoned for seventy years.  Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith