After recovering from a near-fatal illness, 28-year-old Lady Helena Montagu-Douglas-Parr of London decides it’s time to move to Paris and start living life to its fullest.
Historical fiction writer Robson (After the War Is Over, 2015, etc.) delivers a novel in which Lady Helena aims to break free of the aristocratic life in which she has become the focus of gossip and ostracism due to her broken engagement with an ill-suited World War l veteran. She successfully enrolls in a selective art school in Paris, where she will live with her free-spirited Aunt Agnes. With a one-year reprieve from her staid London existence, Helena promises herself she will transform her life, a venture made even more exciting given the backdrop of romantic Paris of the 1920s. Rather than the sizzling and multilayered story that early chapters hint will unfurl, the novel offers a linear account of a year in the life of a likable yet uninspiring protagonist who interacts with similarly benign and tepid characters. Helena’s friends at art school all reveal potential complexity, yet none are explored or developed. Her love interest, Sam, an American journalist, is also a vague character sketch. Even Aunt Agnes, described as wildly avant-garde, ventures only as far as suggesting Helena take a lover. Also frustrating are the unsatisfying cameos by Lost Generation literary icons like Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. (Though the quick scene between the spatting F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald is fun.) These real-life characters are written into chapters as if to merely acknowledge their existence in the same time and place as Helena but serve no purpose to advance a slow-moving plot.
Writing about a young art student restless for adventure in postwar Paris seems like a promising idea. Sadly, Robson delivers a dim tale devoid of moonlight.