Narrated by: Kate Reading
Length: 5 hours 56 minutes
It’s 1840s France, and whole neighborhoods are being razed to the ground in order for the city to become restructured and modernized. Meanwhile, Rose Bazelet hides in the cellar of her abandoned home, refusing to leave no matter the cost. Rose has a long and troubled history with her home, as it was the home that her dearly loved and deceased husband was born and raised in, and it’s where she took her place as a young wife and raised her fledgling family. As Rose begins a series of letters to her beloved husband, the late Armand, she traverses the mental landscape of the Paris she once knew and loved. But from the meanderings of her mind, Rose will reveal a shocking secret that she’s kept hidden with as much skill as she is now hidden from the authorities who wish for her to vacate her home. And in her reflections of time passed, she will slowly uncover the great joys of her life as well as the stark tragedies. Is Rose destined to crumble fruitlessly along with her home, or will there be a moment when her resolve breaks, as her spirit did many years ago? In this atmospherically rich and emotionally complex tale, Tatiana de Rosnay weaves a spell spanning many years and countless heartbreaks, remembered in the troubled portrait of of a city slowly being destroyed and painfully reassembled.
A few years ago I had the pleasure of reading Tatiana de Rosnay’s first book, Sarah’s Key. It was quite a memorable book and it made a deep impression on my psyche. A more deeply psychological look into grief and recompense could not be imagined. I was eager to get the chance to review this new offering by de Rosnay and was lucky enough to get to hear it on audio. The narration was performed by Kate Reading, and it was a very good choice for this book. Her French inflections and accent were rolling and smooth, and it was very pleasant to listen to her imparting the story. While I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as Sarah’s Key, there was a lot here to love, and I moved through it briskly and with great interest.
The book takes the format of a series of letters from Rose to Armand, and as each letter is created, Rose delves deeper and deeper into her history. While some of this information is startling and was not revealed to Armand in his lifetime, other reflections take place in the space of years that Rose has been a widow. As I was listening, I could feel Rose’s anguish for her lost way of life, and though she appears upbeat and even jovial at times, there were subtle undercurrents of tremendous grief in the story she told. A fractious and cruel mother, a daughter who she never felt an affinity for, and a son whom she may have loved too much. All this Armand was spared, but now, seeing the end of her home, Rose feels as if she must come clean about the hidden sides of her life. It was in these helpless remembrances that I grew close to Rose and to feel a protective urgency towards her that I couldn’t shake.
After Armand’s death, Rose becomes a friend to the sagacious and opinionated young flower seller who occupies a space for her shop in one part of the great house Rose lives in. It’s in this friendship that I could see the push for modernity become something very tangible and real, and it’s almost as if de Rosnay introduces this character as a personification of the change that is rapidly spreading across the countryside. Though Rose and the young woman remain close and loving to each other, they couldn’t be further apart in their convictions of what should be done with the city. On the whole, it was a very interesting interplay between young and old, new and tarnished, and it’s this friendship that makes the very last sentences of the book seem so powerful and tragic.
The secret that Rose has kept from Armand is heavily foreshadowed, but when was revealed, I was taken aback. The force with which she protected this secret for so many years shed light on not only the powerful fortitude of Rose, but also on the strange predicament that she had within her family as a mother. In a way, she was protecting her family and all that she held dear, but the repercussions wore on her mentally and may have imparted a fatalistic bent to her personality. It’s interesting to contemplate this after having listened to the book, and to sit and think on it now leaves me wondering ever the more. Who is Rose without her hurts and losses? Who are the people she now relies on and will they be a comfort to her when all is lost?
This was a very interesting look into a period and place that I knew virtually nothing about, and by crafting the very personal story of Rose into this devastating backdrop, Tatiana de Rosnay has given readers a lot to consider and to explore. As with her other books, secrets long hidden become like live bombs in the hands of those who seek to recollect them. An emotionally percussive and solidly powerful read, made perfect in its execution. Recommended.
If you're interested in hearing a clip of the audiobook, please click below and enjoy!
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.