I enjoyed Natasha Lester’s second book, Her Mother’s Secret, but I’d really really loved her first book, A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald. At the time I very much appreciated the insight it offered into the plight of women who’d come less than a century before me – not just through career-limitations but also through society’s beliefs and values, and sadly, its norms.
I reflected on this as I steamed through The Paris Seamstress. It’s most certainly saga-like. It doesn’t centre around topics as heavy and lesson-laden as Lester’s debut novel and yet I adored it and could not put it down.
I was rivetted. By the story of Estelle – a wannabe fashion designer in the 1940s – and her granddaughter Fabienne, a young woman wanting to make her own mark on the world.
The Paris Seamstress
by Natasha Lester
Published by Hachette Australia
on March 27th 2018
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction
1940. Parisian seamstress Estella Bissette is forced to flee France as the Germans advance. She is bound for Manhattan with a few francs, one suitcase, her sewing machine and a dream: to have her own atelier.
2015. Australian curator Fabienne Bissette journeys to the annual Met Gala for an exhibition of her beloved grandmother's work - one of the world's leading designers of ready-to-wear. But as Fabienne learns more about her grandmother's past, she uncovers a story of tragedy, heartbreak and secrets - and the sacrifices made for love.
Lester’s writing is seamless (no pun intended). It allowed the narrative to flow without interrupting my reverie. And as an avid reader I’m conscious it takes a talented writer to allow us to forget we’re mere bystanders to a piece of fiction.
Lester’s strengths however, are very much in her storytelling ability – because this one was addictive and intriguing – in a non-whodunnit kinda way; and in her character development, because we identify very very strongly with both Estelle and Fabienne. Their stories become our own.
The early part of the novel is set in Paris and – though I’ve not been to France – Lester does an amazing job of placing us there. Her casual use of Parisian locations, habits, culture and places through phrasing and and descriptions is a bit bewitching. I’ve never really had any desire to go to France, but this had me rethinking that. Of course it’s war-time France so all is not coffee and croissants. It’s bleak but soaked in atmosphere nonetheless.
Lester’s obviously done her research into the fashion industry and in an Author’s Note at the end reflects on the array of characters referenced – noting some are real and their role in this book rooted in rumour and fact; while others simply reflect the time and setting. There’s also significant mention of the second world war and its reverberations around the world, eventually reaching the US, Estelle’s adopted home.
I really enjoyed the stories of Estelle and Fabienne. The former’s is complex and fraught with insecurity and loss. We really only meet Fabienne in the present so don’t learn much about her upbringing or life with her difficult mother or father devoted to his wife.
Her romance with Tiffany’s head jewellery designer however, is kinda the stuff of our secret childhood fantasies but far more palatable than the fairytales involving princes and sleeping princesses (not to mention vampires and fragile humans or wealthy sadistic billionaires and ingenues!!). THIS fairytale I can certainly get behind. Particularly when Lester gives us such raw and relatable characters – without making a big deal about their lifestyles or achievements.
I started this book later-than-planned on a Friday night and had to put it aside to sleep; picking it up to read on waking the next morning. And I never read during the day. I had to though, as I needed to know if Fabienne got to live happily ever after and exactly what Estelle was forced to endure (and give up) to achieve her dreams.
The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester will be published in Australia by Hachette and available from 27 March 2018.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.