The Velvet Hours by Alyson Richman – 384 pages
ARC by Alyson Richman
An elusive courtesan, Marthe de Florian cultivated a life of art and beauty, casting out all recollections of her impoverished childhood in the dark alleys of Montmartre. With Europe on the brink of war, she shares her story with her granddaughter Solange Beaugiron, using her prized possessions to reveal her innermost secrets. Most striking of all are a beautiful string of pearls and a magnificent portrait of Marthe painted by the Italian artist Giovanni Boldini. As Marthe’s tale unfolds, like velvet itself, stitched with its own shadow and light, it helps to guide Solange on her own path.
My Review: 4.5 stars
The Velvet Hours is a story that imagines the lives of Marthe de Florian and Solange Beauiron, the first and last owners of the time capsule apartment that was sealed for seventy years. I clearly remember reading about this discovery in 2010, and of course the obscene amount of art and antiquities found in it. Author Alyson Richman, has taken what is little known about these two women and created a luminous story about them.
What I like most about Richman’s writing in this book and the other two I’ve read, The Lost Wife and The Garden of Letters is her writing style. Words that come to mind: poetic, fluid, languid, bright, descriptive, quiet, soothing, rich, colorful and evocative. She just makes it seem so easy.
The two women that equally share the main character title knit their individual POVs throughout the story. They have so much to give and learn from one another. Their relationship is just as important as the love story that follows.
Literature and art are highly regarded in this book and just from this reading, I learned quite a bit. The Asian ceramics were described with such fragility and magnificence. The collection of books that filled one’s home and place of work left you smelling the paper, glue and the ancient bindings. Both the art and the books were representative of love, both lost and found.
In my opinion, the Haggadah, the Jewish text recited and shared at the Passover meal, was its own character in this novel. There’s plenty symbolism at play from it: the exodus of the Jewish people, the first-born son, the plaques and the miracles that surround this holiday.
As many of you know, I don’t read book jackets so I had no idea this story had art at it’s core. It’s a reading coincidence that I just finished The Art Forger, in which Isabella Stewart Gardner’s art collection was so vast, she established her own museum in her name. She too had a caveat, that the museum stay as she arranged it, “for the education and enjoyment of the public forever”. The apartment in Paris reminds me of this museum. Both women, Gardner and De Florian, were sensual women, collectors of fine art and wanted their pieces protected for eternity, whether it be in an apartment or a museum.
As always, I’m always awaiting the next book from this author even though this one just got published!
Here is the portrait of Marthe de Florian by Giovanni Boldini:
Quotes I liked:
Every book has a journey all its own.”
-“And since her death, I had looked at each book as though it contained pieces of her soul, stories that had nourished her during the course of a too-short life.”
-“Perspective is a tool used far too infrequently. If people had the courage to alternate their lens every now and then, the world would be a far more beautiful place.”
-“That’s the thing about death or illness. It reveals who your true friends are. The one who remain after everything else slips away.”
-“There are lovers of the flesh, lovers of the mind and love sustained by family.”