The lights of Paris act as a beacon for two generations of women in search of self-determination and fulfillment in Brown’s (The Weird Sisters, 2011, etc.) story of loves lost and found.
Unhappily married Madeleine resents, quietly and inwardly, the strictures placed upon her by her controlling and ambitious husband, Phillip, and chafes against her perfectionist mother’s expectations. Torn between a stultifying existence as a trophy wife and her lifelong but abandoned passion for painting, Madeleine embarks on a voyage of self-discovery, sparked by the unearthing of her grandmother’s diaries in the attic of her mother’s house. Inspired by the long-buried story of her grandmother Margie’s experiences in the Paris of the Lost Generation, Madeleine moves toward an understanding of what will help her navigate through the world on her own terms. With a voice that alternates every other chapter between Madeleine’s narration and excerpts from Margie’s recovered journals, Brown conveys the miseries and satisfactions of women’s journeys toward happiness in a tale balanced upon a family secret. While some characters—or their motivations—might have benefited from more fleshing out (Phillip is a stock controlling husband), the whimsy and romance of post–World War I Paris and Madeleine’s growing comfort with her newly reconstructed life (in a hometown that had previously brought only unhappiness) provide forward momentum. As Madeleine unravels the truths behind her grandmother’s story, she gathers insight into her own, equally complicated, story. With growing self-confidence and the aid of rediscovered friends and relatives, Madeleine approaches life in a different light and with the ability to make hard choices.
Brown conveys the importance of the arts in creating a life as well as the need to heed all voices, even those from the past, in looking to the future.