The Paris Winter is a wonderfully atmospheric tale, conjuring up Parisian city life in the early 20th century. The story takes in the poorest, meanest bars and the most fashionable and glittering soirees. Opium dens and fancy restaurants rub along cheek by jowl, with Maud Heighton doing her best to maintain her genteel if impoverished status somewhere in the middle of it all. And what begins as a tale about trying to become a self-sufficient artist, a pioneering woman, becomes something much darker and very sinister indeed.
Maud is studying at Lafond’s Academy, supporting herself with her meagre inheritance. Her home town of Darlington holds little attraction for her anymore, and it is her intention to study well and improve her art. Her boldness of spirit shines through, even though she is a quiet and self-contained young woman. It’s a struggle to make ends meet, and with winter approaching she is resigned to being cold and hungry. Her plight is noticed by one of the regular life class models, and is brought to the attention of Tanya, a rich Russian student. Despite their very different backgrounds Tanya and Maud quickly become friends, the first real friend Maud has made. Things look even better for Maud when she lands a job as companion for Sylvie Morel.
Sylvie is in need of company to distract her from her opium habit. Maud tutors her in English and drawing, and they spend their afternoons together walking and sketching. The comfortable lodgings, generous wages and good food leave Maud counting her blessings. But, that saying about things being too good to be true…
One of the things I loved about The Paris Winter was the way the mood changed. Maud’s life is thrown into turmoil with no warning. As a reader I felt this too. I was reading along, quite happily, thinking to myself how much I was enjoying this story, and wasn’t Maud lucky to have found some comfort and companionship, when WHAM! I had been planning to put the book down at the end of the particular chapter and go to sleep – that did not happen.
The second half of the book has a menace to it that the first part does not. There’s a sense of real danger, and the lack of safety urged me to keep reading. The ground is no longer solid beneath your feet – brilliantly echoed in the dramatic flooding of the city. The city becomes shadowy and uncertain. There are plots and schemes to be made and unravelled. It got rather exciting.
Another thing I loved about the book were all the female friendships; this is a book of opinionated, resourceful, courageous women looking for ways to live their own lives, to be their own versions of themselves. In this book they best do that by looking out and caring for each other. Friendship and loyalty are treasured. How very inspiring.
The Paris Winter is a gripping story with an excellent cast of characters. I thoroughly enjoyed the gentle build-up to a terrible deed and its ramifications. Marvellous.
I was delighted to receive a copy of The Paris Winter from Headline. It’s available now in Hardback.