Miss Riki’s Review:
When Maude Pichon runs away from home in provincial Brittany, her heart is set on a new and exciting life in Paris. Struggling to make her way on the streets, Maude answers an unusual ad for employment placed by the mysterious Durandeau Agency. When she lands the job as the perfect candidate, she is devastated to find out that the unusual service the agency provides is to set up wealthy women with repoussoirs, or beauty foils. The premise is simple: hire a plain or ugly friend to make you look instantly more attractive. Despite her misgivings, Maude accepts the position and begins working for the wealthy Countess Dubern, who has hired Maude to be a repoussoir for her headstrong daughter Isabelle. The only problem is that Isabelle has no idea that Maude has been hired, and the two girls form a fast friendship. As the situation becomes increasingly more complicated, Maude’s loyalty to both the agency and her new friend are tested.
I absolutely loved the concept for this book! Nothing good can come of such an underhanded plan, and Ross does an excellent job of weaving a tale of friendship and deception that kept me turning pages at a clip. Maude Pichon is a wonderful main character with a driving desire to make it in Paris on her own. I loved the unlikely friendship that forms between she and Isabelle and dreaded the moment that Isabelle finds out that her mother has hired Maude to be her companion. Maude doesn’t always make the right decisions, but there’s a wonderful tension in her desire to both get ahead in a tough-to-crack society as well as do the right thing by her new friend. The character development in this book is extraordinary, with both women coming full circle in growth.
I can’t imagine life as a repoussoir. Their working conditions are deplorable, living each day as a lie. That’s not even to mention that these girls live with the fact that they are unattractive enough to make a good beauty foil. Despite their poor futures, Ross has written a lovely group of women with spirit and heart that rise to be worth much more than their looks.
I also loved the romantic plotline with the disheveled bohemian, Paul Villette. He’s a worthy love interest that captures Maude’s heart. I loved that despite being drawn to the wealthy Duke she meets through Isabelle, Maude follows her heart and finds real romance with Paul.
Belle Époque is well researched, with a beautiful, vivid Parisian setting and memorable characters. The author includes a nice section of notes at the end discussing the research that went into the novel, and she’s done a beautiful job of weaving a historically accurate setting with a compelling fictional storyline. It is beautifully written.