To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin (4 out of 5)

I honestly thought this was going to be my WWII fiction book of the year. There hasn’t been one in over a year…what am I going to recommend to KP? Upon receiving it in, I realized that no, this is not what I thought. Instead, it takes place in 1886 and centers chiefly around the construction of the Eiffel Tower. That part of the novel? Beyond fascinating! To someone who has been obsessed with it since Duran Duran did their video for “A View To A Kill” in 1985, it was a eye-opening look at how it came about. Beatrice Colin really did her research and it comes shining through. That isn’t the only aspect contained in this period piece, however. It’s also a great retelling of the revolutionary period in which this takes place, in which Impressionists roamed the streets and parlors of Paris, and where corsets, opium, and parties are part of an independence and movement that continued for years in the City of Lights. There’s one more very important aspect of Colin’s historical romp, and that’s the romance. Yes, a romance. You know how I feel about that. Usually. 

Cait Wallace is a 30-year old widow who chaperones two wealthy Scots, Alice and Jamie, on their European vacation. She meets Emile on a hot-air balloon (only I would see that as a sign of what may be coming) ride and is swept away by his handsomeness and his charm. Emile also happens to be one of the designers of the Eiffel Tower, which Paris is all abuzz about. Chemistry is apparent, but once back to reality, there are obstacles. Cait wants Emile, but feels she cannot step outside of her social status (in those times, being a widow was akin to social blacklisting). Emile, on the other hand, is held back by family expectations and conflicted about wanting to pursue the opium-heavy lives of the free spirits roaming the streets of Paris. Can these two radically different people overcome the odds and make their feelings a reality, or will they cave to social and economic pressure? I love a romance between opposites as much as the next person, but I feel the formula for this in sweeping historical stories has been done to death. Colin did a great job of changing my thoughts on that, but I am still not super fond of the romance amidst a sweeping novel about a completely unrelated story plot device. To me, this was mostly a labor of love to the majesty that is the Eiffel Tower, and how it came to be. Throwing a romance in there between two characters who were perfect illustrations of the people in Paris around that time when one of those characters is helping to design the focal point of the novel, makes sense. Having the construction of the tower be a metaphor for what is developing between Cait and Emile? Also makes sense. It doesn’t mean I have to like it, though. I miss historical epics about one single solitary event or structure- be it the Eiffel Tower here or the building of a Gothic cathedral in Ken College’s magnificent “Pillars of the Earth”- in which THAT is the main event. Whereas there are families and romantic entanglements involved in Follett’s magnum opus, the main story is the construction of the cathedral, and the characters are secondary to that. I felt that Cait and Emile’s romance against the odds overshadowed the Eiffel Tower. As I said, the way the author writes them and their story…you aren’t really minding it. Unless you’re me, and it bugs you because it’s something a formula that drives me batty. No bearing upon the author, however. She did a fantastic job, I just wish the romance weren’t fighting the Eiffel Tower story through most of the book. Colin ties all of her characters together well, and they are all likeable people that you grow to care very deeply about. I think I just cared more about the Eiffel Tower this time around. I will still highly recommend this to anyone looking for a great historical novel. Well done, Ms. Colin. 


~ by generationgbooks on December 7, 2016.

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