I received an eARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Title: To Capture What We Cannot Keep
Author: Beatrice Colin
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication Date: November 29, 2016
Summary (from Goodreads): Set against the construction of the Eiffel Tower, this novel charts the relationship between a young widow and an engineer who, despite constraints of class and wealth, fall in love.
In February 1887, Caitriona Wallace and Émile Nouguier meet in a hot air balloon, floating high above Paris–a moment of pure possibility. But back on firm ground, their vastly different social strata become clear. Cait is a widow who because of her precarious financial situation is forced to chaperone two wealthy Scottish charges. Émile is expected to take on the bourgeois stability of his family’s business and choose a suitable wife. As the Eiffel Tower rises, a marvel of steel and air and light, the subject of extreme controversy and a symbol of the future, Cait and Émile must decide what their love is worth.
Seamlessly weaving historical detail and vivid invention, Beatrice Colin evokes the revolutionary time in which Cait and Émile live–one of corsets and secret trysts, duels and Bohemian independence, strict tradition and Impressionist experimentation. To Capture What We Cannot Keep, stylish, provocative, and shimmering, raises probing questions about a woman’s place in that world, the overarching reach of class distinctions, and the sacrifices love requires of us all.
There is something glamorous and intriguing about this time in history that just draws you into this book. Colin has created a unique and interesting story surrounding the construction of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. There are also beautiful passages and gorgeous descriptions of the fashion and lifestyle during the time period. However, the main character, Cait, goes through so many personality changes that I had a hard time liking her as a character towards the end of the novel.
If you have ever read or watched any of the numerous mini-series that document and romanticize the building of the Titanic, you will have a sense of what this book is about. Beatrice Colin beautifully depicts the setting of Paris and the landscape pre-Eiffel Tower. There are many elaborate and interesting moments throughout the story that describe the materials, techniques and hardships that went into constructing this famous structure. It was very fascinating to read the opinions of Parisians and their aversion to this monument that is a symbol now associated with the country.
I also really enjoyed the passages in To Capture What We Cannot Keep that Colin wrote to beautifully describe the elaborate clothes worn during the late 1800s. Fashion and appearance were of great importance at the time and it was delightful to read about what the characters were wearing to art shows attended by Seurat. I especially loved the scene where the characters were skating and taking advantage of showing off a little bit of ankle!
While there are numerous aspects of the novel that I adored, the protagonist Cait, is one that I found relatable at first and then at about 3/4 of the way through the book became a somewhat dislikable character. Without spoiling too much of the plot, I will just say that I was disappointed with the lack of direction she gave to the young adults that she was chaperoning. I felt that for someone who is trying to break the norms of society and find her own place in the world, she could have been more inspiring and helpful to Alice and Jamie.
To Capture What We Cannot Keep is a beautifully written novel that will whisk its readers right into the time period of 1887 flawlessly. It is quite an enjoyable historical fiction that provides a window to an era long forgotten. Although the main character fell flat for me, I do think that those who enjoy historical fiction will find this novel quite enjoyable.