Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers on June 11 2013
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Rating: 3/5 stars
When Maude Pichon runs away from provincial Brittany to Paris, her romantic dreams vanish as quickly as her savings. Desperate for work, she answers an unusual ad. The Durandeau Agency provides its clients with a unique service—the beauty foil. Hire a plain friend and become instantly more attractive.
Monsieur Durandeau has made a fortune from wealthy socialites, and when the Countess Dubern needs a companion for her headstrong daughter, Isabelle, Maude is deemed the perfect foil.
But Isabelle has no idea her new "friend" is the hired help, and Maude's very existence among the aristocracy hinges on her keeping the truth a secret. Yet the more she learns about Isabelle, the more her loyalty is tested. And the longer her deception continues, the more she has to lose.
These characters weren’t exactly likeable, but they were interesting. I didn’t much enjoy being inside Maude’s head. She didn’t have a very memorable voice and despite the fascinating premise I found it kind of difficult to get into. The secondary characters were much more intriguing, particularly Isabelle. I could have done with a bit more development all around, though. Unfortunately, I ended the book feeling like I didn’t really know any of these people at all. I was particularly disappointed in the love interest, Paul. He was pretty boring, and I didn’t appreciate his jumping to conclusions.
The plot was certainly original. I enjoyed that aspect of it. I have a hard time enjoying books that involve lying and double lives because I spend so much time in anticipation of the moment when it all falls apart. It really fell apart for Maude. I just have a hard time sympathizing with liars, no matter how many good reasons they may have for doing so. Also it makes me really uncomfortable, as did the concept of repoussoirs. It was made to fail. It did feel good to read about how Maude and the other girls brought Durandeau down.
My favourite character in this book was Paris. The descriptions were delightful, though sometimes a tad overbearing. I do think that this book would have benefited from being written in third person rather than first. I’m not usually a big fan of third person, but I think it really would have worked here. Alas, it is what it is! The pacing was decent, if a little bit slow.