Dark doings in Paris in 1887 as engineer Gustave Eiffel supervises construction of his Tower.
French author Bleys’s fourth novel, winner of the Prix du Roman Historique, focuses initially on two Eiffel employees: Parisian bon vivant Odilon Cheyne and ingenuous provincial “hick” Armand Boissier. The two become devoted friends (and are labeled “the twins”) at work and at play—and Odilon leads the starry-eyed Armand to a “spiritualist society” led by clairvoyant Apolline Sérafon (to whom Cheyne is secretly married). Through these new friends Armand meets and falls for stunning young actress Roseline Page. All seems bliss—until scheming American engineer Gordon Hole, jealous of Eiffel’s increasing celebrity and sworn to ruin him, engages drug-addicted layabout Gaspard Louchon as his henchman in a plot that also involves a lissome ventriloquist named Salome. Roseline is kidnapped and her death counterfeited, and the suggestible Armand is persuaded that Eiffel had stolen (Roseline’s father) Gordon Hole’s conception—and that it is Armand’s duty to prevent the Tower’s completion. An attempt on the partially finished structure is abandoned when Armand encounters a “luminous shape” that he interprets to be Roseline’s ghost. These not-unentertaining absurdities proliferate blithely, reaching a climax somewhat delayed while Bleys laboriously displays the fruits of his evidently exhaustive researches. The villainous Gordon Hole (and what a pity it is Peter Sellers isn’t around to portray him), a Francophobe of gargantuan proportions, deviously masters the art of French cooking, posing as a chef at the Exhibition where the Tower will open to the public. And the cavalry (consisting of “the twins” and their respective beloveds) arrives just in whatever is the Gallic equivalent of the nick of time. Bleys is clearly enjoying himself, and readers who don’t take this nonsense seriously may do the same.
A fictional soufflé: airy and insubstantial, but really rather sweet.