The Velvet Hours by Alyson Richman
If you didn’t hear of the long-shuttered Parisian apartment of Marthe de Florian, this will bring the discoveries so well covered by the Daily Mail, Alyson Richman presents a very plausible story about the life of this rather enigmatic woman. Narrated by Tavia Gilbert and Kate Reading, please read on for my review of the audiobook version of
The Velvet Hours
Not much is known of the life story of Marthe de Florian (Not her real name) and much of those details were lost with time, or Marthe’s own reticence in sharing her life. As a young girl born into extreme poverty, her options were limited. Marthe was beautiful, intelligent and determined to overcome her birth, and availed herself of options presented to a charming young woman. As a courtesan, Marthe strove to surround herself with reflections of the beauty available, ignoring and camouflaging the darkness and poverty of her birth.
With the world on the brink of war, and Paris close to invation, Solange, a struggling young writer discovers her tie to Marthe. As her granddaughter, Solange began a series of visits with Marthe, getting to know of her and her life, as she explored the treasure trove inside the apartment. Hearing tales of her grandmothers life of the Paris that was all things grand, artistic and luxe, Richman weaves a wonderful tale full of beauty and some sadness as the tale unfolds. From great loves to losses, an admiring painter and choices made, Marthe provides Solange with inspiration and ties to her own family history all set with credible and believeable events, fictional and not, to proceed.
Details are glorious in this book, the ease with which Richman walks readers through the trinkets, objects and even moments in the story are easily visualized, the moments rich with sights and even sounds of the city. While several questions are still unanswered, the end of the story presents readers with options and a tipping point for their own imagination: knowing that the apartment was left untouched for 70 years. My only quibble with the writing are some passages where the descriptions try “too hard” to sound as luxe and lush as the surroundings: we don’t always need a “fine porcelain cup, nearly transparent and hand-painted was raised to her petal-perfect lips” (not exact quote)…. She took her tea from a hand-painted set would work just fine. Small enough detail to not thoroughly frustrate, but may put some readers and listeners off.
A dual narration from Tavia Gilbert and Karen Reading tell the story, each using their own talents to present the voices of Solange and Marthe. Pauses, increases and decreasing pace, the emotional content of wonder (Solange) and remembered sweetness (Marthe) are clearly present, without distracting. These women presented the words as if one would hear them as reading: quicker in dialogue, perhaps melancholic or hesitant in memory, with smiles over remembered joy. A wonderful listen that enhances the story as it proceeds.
Fans of historic fiction will love this story as it slowly unfolds, unwrapping layers like gifts, presenting a fully realized story at the end. If you haven’t looked at the images from the Daily Mail yet, I suggest you do just that. Many items from the story will be instantly recognized.
Stars Overall: 4 Narration: 4 Story: 4
Title: The Velvet Hours
Author: Alyson Richman
Genre: Family Saga, France, Historical Fiction, World War II
Narrator: Kate Reading, Tavia Gilbert
Published by: Berkley, Blackstone Audio
Published on: 6 September 2016
Source: AudioBook Jukebox
Audio Length: 11 Hours: 27 minutes
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About the Book:
As Paris teeters on the edge of the German occupation, a young French woman closes the door to her late grandmother’s treasure-filled apartment, unsure if she’ll ever return.
An elusive courtesan, Marthe de Florian cultivated a life of art and beauty, casting out all recollections of her impoverished childhood in the dark alleys of Montmartre. With Europe on the brink of war, she shares her story with her granddaughter Solange Beaugiron, using her prized possessions to reveal her innermost secrets. Most striking of all are a beautiful string of pearls and a magnificent portrait of Marthe painted by the Italian artist Giovanni Boldini. As Marthe’s tale unfolds, like velvet itself, stitched with its own shadow and light, it helps to guide Solange on her own path.
Inspired by the true account of an abandoned Parisian apartment, Alyson Richman brings to life Solange, the young woman forced to leave her fabled grandmother’s legacy behind to save all that she loved.
A copy of this title was provided via AudioBook Jukebox for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.