Home > Book List, Personal Posts, Sugar without cellulite > In dire need of escapism…

In dire need of escapism…

October 22, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

I don’t know how it is for you, but every time I switch on the radio, it’s all gloom and doom. Add to the mix a string of exhausting days at work and I’m in the right mood for book escapism.

I tried to read A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable (2014), based on an extraordinary but true story.

In 2010, Marc Ottari, a Parisian art expert was appointed to appraise the content of an apartment. Set in the heart of Paris, it had been unopened for 70 years. They discovered a portrait by the Belle Epoque portraitist Giovanni Boldini along with a collection of expensive furniture and decorations. It was the apartment of Marthe de Florian (1864-1939), a famous demi-mondaine of the Third Republic.

The novel features April Vogt, an American art expert sent to Paris to help out her colleagues from the French office in charge of registering all the furniture and decorations of the above-mentioned apartment. She gets interested in Marthe and investigates further.

The blurb had me salivating. The execution? Not so much. I thought that April was an irritating character with her marital angst and her swooning for French men. Gable dabbles a book full of all the Parisian clichés an American reader might expect. It didn’t warm me to April as a character or to the author.

April finds Marthe de Florian’s diary and the chapters alternate between April in Paris and Marthe’s voice coming from her journal. A well-known but efficient plot device. The problem is that Marthe doesn’t speak like a 19th century woman, in my opinion. That’s the form. And then, there’s the substance.

CREDIT “AFP/MARC OTTAVI”

According to her Wikipedia page –probably based upon Gable’s novel— Marthe de Florian was involved with several French politicians of the Third Republic and with Robert de Montesquiou.

In the afterword by Marc Ottavi, the actual art expert who went into the apartment mentions that they found letters by prominent politicians of the Third Republic but nothing by Robert de Montesquiou.

To be honest, I thought that her affair with Montesquiou was strange. I know of him because he was a friend and mentor of Proust’s and allegedly the inspiration for the Baron de Charlus.

I don’t think that Marthe de Florian and her politicians ran into the same circles as Montesquiou, even if Boldini painted him too. And both Montesquiou and his doppelganger Charlus were gay.

Monstesquiou’s Wikipedia page confirms my impression. He ran into aristocratic social circles (and not Republican ones like Marthe de Florian) and his only love interest mentioned is a man, Gabriel Yturri. They met in 1885 and were together until Yturri’s death in 1905. They are buried in the same grave.

I’ve looked into other articles about Marthe de Florian and while they mention the politicians, they never hint at any relationship with Robert de Montesquiou. One of those is here.

So, a torrid affair between Montesquiou and Marthe de Florian? I don’t buy it. I’d love to hear about Michelle Gable’s source since none of them are listed in her book.

In the end, between April’s weak voice, Marthe’s too modern one, her weird hatred for Jeanne Hugo and the historical inconsistencies, I stopped reading. I felt I was cheated of a good story because the discovery of Marthe de Florian’s apartment is a bloody perfect pitch for a novel.

I was still in dire need of escapism when I stumbled upon Emi’s message on Twitter (@dappled_days) about The Lark by E. Nesbit. She wanted other book recommendations like this one and I figured it would help me out too. Other book lovers responded with recommendations and I listed them for future reference.

  • The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
  • Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
  • The Lark by E. Nesbit
  • Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession
  • Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
  • Crusoe’s Daughter by Jane Gardam
  • O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker
  • Miss Buncle’s Book by DE Stevenson
  • Susan Settles down by Molly Clavering
  • Miss Carter and the Ifrit by Susan Alice Kerby
  • Much Dithering by Dorothy Lambert
  • The Marble Staircase by Elizabeth Fair
  • Shepherdess of Sheep by Noel Streatfeild
  • Rhododendron Pie by Margery Sharp
  • High Rising by Angela Thirkell
  • The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden
  • Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp
  • The Nutmeg Tree by Margery Sharp
  • Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
  • The Haunted bookshop by Christopher Morley
  • A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse
  • The Love Letter by Cathleen Schine
  • The Blue Castle by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  • Tom Tiddler’s Ground by Ursula Orange
  • The Ladies of Lyndon by Margaret Kennedy Days
  • Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple
  • The Fortnight in September by RC Sherriff
  • At Sea by Laurie Graham
  • Patricia Brent, Spinster by H.G. Jenkins
  • Miss Mole by E.H. Young
  • Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
  • Penny Plain by O. Douglas
  • Wonder Cruise by Ursula Bloom
  • The Romance of a Shop by Amy Levy
  • Miss MacKenzie by Anthony Trollope
  • Mr Hogarth’s Will by Catherine Helen Spence
  • A Humble Enterprise by Ada Cambridge
  • The Three Miss Kings by Ada Cambridge

More suggestions published by Dean Street Press.

British Library Crime Classics supplies another kind of escapism and that’s the one I turned to when I read The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie for the upcoming #1929Club.

If you have information about Marthe de Florian, please let me know, I’m curious. Other recommendations for book escapism are welcome.

  1. October 23, 2022 at 12:00 am

    That looks like a useful list. Glad to see those Australians down the end, though I’m not sure I’d include Mr Hogarth’s Will in ‘escapism’.
    My own escape is generally the ever reliable Georgette Heyer.

    Like

    • October 23, 2022 at 7:02 am

      I’ve never read Georgette Heyer but I’ve heard of her. Which one would you recommend as a starter?

      Like

      • October 24, 2022 at 1:32 pm

        Any of her Regency Romances – Wiki has an entry ‘List of works by Georgette Heyer’ – they are all equally silly and fun. Last week I read The Toll Gate, which interestingly, is as much an adventure novel as a romance. An Infamous Army about Wellington at Waterloo is very well researched (and is also a romance). My collection is entirely made up of books I’ve come across second hand. If I have to name a favourite I’ll say The Grand Sophy.

        Like

        • October 25, 2022 at 8:39 pm

          Thanks for your answer, I’ll add her to the list with “any book by Georgette Heyer” 🙂

          Like

  2. October 23, 2022 at 2:57 am

    My solution is not to listen to the radio.
    A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse: great to begin with, but I found the ending rather flat.
    I think Parnassus on Wheels by Morley is actually much better than The Haunted Bookshop. Highly recommended.

    Like

    • October 23, 2022 at 7:05 am

      I try to limit my listening to the radio too but I still want to know what happens in the world.
      I agree with you about the Cosse but the bookstore setting is good for book lovers.
      I’ll had Parnassus on Wheels to the list, thanks for the recommendation.

      Like

  3. October 23, 2022 at 3:28 am

    What a pity this book didn’t work for you. I love novels about art and the premise sounds brilliant; pity it was let down by the execution.

    The list of books is very welcome. I’ve read a few from it and heartily agree they are jolly and upbeat and entertaining. Can I add an Australian recommendation to the list? The Women in Black by Madeleine St John. The movie is also delightful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • October 23, 2022 at 7:10 am

      I was so frustrated with this book. And you say, the premise is brilliant.
      I loved The Women in Black, I’ll add it to the list. I didn’t know it was made into a film.

      Have you seen the film version of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day? Frances McDomand plays Miss Pettigrew. It’s great.

      Like

  4. October 23, 2022 at 4:29 am

    What a good idea to list the suggestions!

    Like

    • October 23, 2022 at 7:00 am

      I’m going to add the new ones I get through comments.
      The list is good to have and with the immediate download of books on e-readers, I feel I’m covered if I need something untertaining.

      Like

      • October 23, 2022 at 7:17 am

        Please remember to tag it so that we can find it again through your search box.

        Like

        • October 23, 2022 at 7:26 am

          It’s in the “Sugar Without Cellulite” category but I’ll add a “book list” category. Thanks for the tip.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. October 23, 2022 at 9:14 am

    Ah, shame about the execution- I had heard about that apartment and thought what a wonderful basis for a story!
    I’m sooo much in need of escapist reading – in addition to all the bad news in the world, there’ve been lots of personal problems, big and small. In my case, that tends to manifest itself as an avalanche of crime fiction – not the really dark and hopeless seeming ones, nothing too disquieting, just an intriguing puzzle and justice being done.

    Like

    • October 23, 2022 at 10:01 am

      It’s such a waste of an excellent story…
      I hope you’ll be better soon and that your current vows aren’t too crippling.
      I like cozy crime for escapism too but I shy away from thrillers and books with psychopaths who kill, torture women or children.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. October 23, 2022 at 9:39 am

    I think we all need a little escapism right now, especially those of us in the UK where the political climate is in meltdown…
    Lovely to see The Fortnight in September on your list – I was about to suggest it, but it’s already there! Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac would be a great choice from the British Library Crime Classics series as there’s a lovely ‘jolly hockey sticks’ feel to the atmosphere, especially at the beginning.

    Like

    • October 23, 2022 at 9:59 am

      We’ve heard about British politics here too and well, it’s better not to make fun of anyone because we don’t know what could happen here in the coming years.
      Nice to know you second the Fortnight in September recommendation.
      I’ve opened a British Library Crime Classics list, so, don’t hesitate to add to it.

      Like

  7. October 23, 2022 at 1:34 pm

    Great list Lisa – definitely need some escapism from the political mess in this country at the mo… Miss Pettigrew is a particular favourite of mine, though I do tend to turn to GA crime in times of stress.

    Like

    • October 23, 2022 at 9:23 pm

      Classic crime is a safe haven too. Do you have recommendations?

      Like

      • October 23, 2022 at 9:39 pm

        Pretty much any of the British Library Crime Classics would do, but I second Jacqui’s recommendation of E.C.R. Lorac in all her various guises. There are lots set in WW2 which are particularly satisfying. And I love any of the John Dickson Carr titles they’re reissued – “The Seat of the Scornful”, a recent one, was particularly good.

        Like

  8. October 23, 2022 at 1:43 pm

    What a shame when it sounded so promising! That list is very useful, I’ll definitely take a look at some that I don’t know. I’m surprised to see O Caledonia included though – I like it, but I found it quite bleak and sad.

    Like

    • October 23, 2022 at 9:24 pm

      Thanks I’ve noted down all the books I saw in the answers received. I haven’t checked them but I’ll have closer look at O Caledonia.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. October 24, 2022 at 1:12 am

    I started ‘A Paris Apartment’, but quickly put it down – so strewn with clichés, clichéd American, clichéd Frenchmen, and that unbelievable love affair – irritating and lazy. There are many lovely books on your list, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed more than a few. Classic mysteries are a staple for my escapist reads as are books from Slavic and Central European countries with plenty of absurdist humor, but instead I’m going to recommend a mystery series from a writing duo in Poland (aka Maryla Szymíczkowa), ‘Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing’ and ‘Karolina and the Torn Curtain’. From Japan, ‘Sweet Bean Paste’ by Durian Sukegawa, and ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ by Amor Towles. (I”ve posted about about the first three.) Not necessarily all sweetness and light, but good for escape!

    Like

    • October 25, 2022 at 8:42 pm

      Ah, I’m glad I’m not the only one put off by A Paris Apartment.

      Thanks for the recommendations, I’ll add them to the list.

      Like

  10. October 25, 2022 at 1:31 pm

    Shame it was so weak because I definitely agree that’s a great pitch. So it sometimes goes though. It does sound like perhaps it was aimed at a more mainstream audience with less knowledge of France.

    Like

    • October 25, 2022 at 8:40 pm

      It sounded like not enough effort was put into proper research. And historical fiction without extensive research…

      Like

  1. November 30, 2022 at 8:17 pm

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