I turned the final page of THE VELVET HOURS last night. Then, I hurried to the computer to send the author a message. I just had to! I loved the book that much. Alyson Richman sent a gracious reply.
It’s Paris, the Germans are about to invade. Yes, we’ve heard this before. And it never ceases to intrigue me. But this time I remembered how much I loved THE LOST WIFE and THE GARDEN OF LETTERS. I knew Richman would not disappoint. She surpassed my expectations. And they were high.
The thing I love most about this story is that much of it was taken from a true account of a Parisian apartment that was abandoned for seventy years. Yes, that is a fact. This apartment was locked up and left by the dead owner’s granddaughter. The novel begins with the end. A young woman is locking the door to her grandmother’s apartment in Paris as the sounds of the planes overhead assault her senses. She is about to flee for her life…. And does not know if or when she will ever return. That sure got my attention.
The author’s notes in the back of the book are worth the read. I almost always read them before I begin the book. For some odd reason I did not do this with this novel. But knowing that so much of the story is true is a game changer. I love this.
Solange’s grandmother was an elusive courtesan who was born in poverty in the Montmartre district of Paris. She was determined to be “someone” and she certainly did become just that, if not exactly how she may have imagined that. Marthe de Florian caught the eye of a well-to-do young man while dancing. Charles who was married with a small son, set Marthe up in her own apartment which she began making into a haven for them to escape and be alone. It became such a haven over the years that Marthe rarely left its safety. They truly became lovers in every sense of the word. Their private world, their inner sanctum, never touched Charles’s other life. Ever. And nothing is ever said of feelings of jealousy or greed. Their relationship was truly unique.
Marthe, who loved collecting precious and beautiful artifacts, began surrounding herself with expensive sets of porcelain. She had an eye for just the right ‘something.’ Some of those somethings would become her saving grace years later. But the most important piece of artwork would be the lifelike portrait of herself that Charles commissioned the Italian portrait artist Georanni Boldini to paint just before Charles passed away. Not to say the luxurious string of perfect pearls Marthe wore around her neck were anything but exquisite. Both the portrait and the pearls play a large part in the story.
You see, Marthe was a real live courtesan. And her story is punctuated by the dialog Richman adds to the novel. It all comes springing to life and we are lucky enough to have found it. What makes the story so unique are the lifelike voices of Solange and Marthe. And the way Marthe and Solange become close after so many years of not knowing each other. We get to see the softer side of Marthe as she gets to know her granddaughter. Even though Marthe and her son who she gave up at birth, were never close, the saving grace is the relationship that develops between Marthe and Solange. And it’s all brought about because of love. All in the name of love.
This wonderful book is available now in trade paperback form from Berkley Book. I received my review copy in exchange for an honest review. I simply love it!