Top positive review
Reminiscent of Ella Carey’s Paris novels
8 May 2018
I found The Paris Seamstress to be reminiscent of Lester's fellow Australian author, Ella Carey’s three bestselling novels of 2015 and 2016, Paris Time Capsule, The House by the Lake and From a Paris Balcony, but I enjoyed Carey’s novels more.
I did not think the denouement in The Paris Seamstress (which was very similar in concept to the outcome/twist in Paris Time Capsule) worked as well as it did in Carey’s novel for reasons which I will explain further without giving away the story, and I had trouble warming to the protagonists in The Paris Seamstress- to Fabienne and her grandmother, Estella. I also found some aspects of The Paris Seamstress a little off.
In The Paris Seamstress, Lester's contemporary character Fabienne, in the same way as Carey's Cat in Paris Time Capsule, sets out to find out the truth behind her grandmother's life in Paris (Lester’s 1940’s character is Estelle, the grandmother in Carey’s novel is Virginia) before Estelle, like Virginia, fled the city on the eve of the Nazi occupation in June 1940. While doing so, like Carey's Cat, Fabienne uncovers hidden secrets and surprises about her ancestry.
The Paris Seamstress, like Carey’s novels The House by the Lake and From a Paris Balcony, is a dual narrative, with Fabienne's story set in 2015, and Estelle's story set during the Second World War. Like Sarah in Carey’s From a Paris Balcony, Fabienne works as an art curator.
In The Paris Seamstress, Estelle, like Virginia in Paris Time Capsule, is an independent and iconic character in the family who fled Paris in 1940 and then worked in the garment district in New York, as did Carey's Virginia.
Before Lester’s Estelle left Paris in 1940, she worked as a midinette, while making a second income copying- or stealing, really- the ideas from major French designers such as Chanel, sitting and sketching models’ outfits on the runway at Paris fashion shows in order to send her sketches off to New York to be copied, or to be made up and sold in Paris. However, Estelle has aspirations to design her own independent clothing line one day.
In 2015, Fabienne also ultimately works toward designing her own creations, rather than curating other’s work as part of her job. In the same way, Carey’s Cat works at a photography studio in New York, while ultimately she yearns to set up her own photography studio. But both Fabienne and Cat need to go through a certain journey to feel the confidence to do set up on their own as creatives.
Like Carey’s Cat, Fabienne is intrigued to discover that her grandmother inherited an abandoned apartment in Paris and she wants to find out why- like Cat, as Fabienne digs deeper into the past, she discovers similar twists to Carey's Cat surrounding her ancestors’ lives both before and during the Second World War. Fabienne and Cat both discover a relative/character who grew up in a nunnery in France, a parent who grew up unaware of their real parentage. Fabienne uncovers Evelyn Nesbit, a showgirl great-great grandmother. Cat discovers courtesan and dancer Marthe de Florian in Paris Time Capsule.
Ultimately, it is personal letters left from the past for descendants, that help both Fabienne and Cat learn the truth about their grandmother’s lives and the secrets surrounding their ancestry.
Fabienne, like Cat, meets a handsome stranger, Will, while travelling, and in Paris Fabienne falls in love with him as Cat does with her handsome stranger, Loic. Like Carey’s Cat, Fabienne becomes conflicted as to whether she should be with Will, or choose to make a life with her boyfriend at home- Carey’s Christian, and Lester’s Jasper are both boyfriends back home who are determinedly focused on career and work, while Carey’s Loic and Lester’s Will share the same outlook on life and both protagonists must choose as to whether they are going to make a shift in their outlooks that will ultimately lead them to a new way of living, creating and loving in the way they ultimately want to do- or not.
Fabienne’s inner journey and the love story between she and Will follows much of the same story arc as Carey's Cat’s did with Loic.
Fabienne, like Carey's Cat, works toward an exhibition back at home- Cat’s is of her photographs, Fabienne’s of fashion. Lester adds in some embellishments- we meet the character of Will's sister, Melissa.
In the 1940’s narrative, Lester, like Carey, also writes a second, tragic love story set during the war, which ends in the same way as Carey’s, with a character dying as happens in Carey’s book, due to similar reasons as in Paris Time Capsule, during the war, but I will not give away who that character is. In The Paris Seamstress, we see a female character’s - a mother’s and parallel character's- determined and brave involvement in the French resistance, as happens in Paris Time Capsule.
Lester adds the character, Harry Thaw to her 1940’s narrative, a sadistic rapist who appears at random points in the 1940’s story. Lester also populates her 1940’s story with a friend for Estelle, which is similar to the friendship between Carey's Isabelle de Florian and Virginia in Paris Time Capsule, and in The House by the Lake.
I found the twist at the end of The Paris Seamstress far fetched, rather off, to be honest, and melodramatic. While it, in many ways, followed along the same lines as Carey’s twist in Paris Time Capsule, it didn’t work for me in the way Carey’s did. It lacked the surprise that I had in reading Paris Time Capsule, and I didn’t find it as original or fresh.
The cover design of Lester’s US edition of The Paris Seamstress is strikingly similar to Carey’s US Paris Time Capsule cover. The font, the concept and the photograph on the front are almost the same with the Eiffel Tower and the two characters in front of it.
While Lester has clearly done her research- her descriptions of garments, the fashion industry and Paris in the 1940’s are most certainly in depth, I didn’t ultimately find The Paris Seamstress a satisfying read on any level. I felt it lacked something, and for me, what it lacked, which Carey’s original novels, did have in my opinion, was heart.