Monday, September 16, 2013

BELLE EPOQUE by Elizabeth Ross

A novel of beauty and betrayal

Belle Epoque hooked me right away with an amazing concept: the beauty foil.  Basically, rich people hire unattractive people to make them seem more attractive.  Genius!  The premise is something I'd never heard before, realistic b/c it plays on society's vanity and the need to be beautiful.

Maude, our heroine, has no idea that her job interview is actually for a repoussoir (from the French verb "repousser," meaning to repulse).  Even though she needs the job to survive, her pride and self-worth are shaken.  Is she really like these other girls?  Can she bare listening to people point out her flaws and thinking her outer appearance is the only thing that matters?  Can she remain in the shadows and let her companion shine brighter?

Here's the summary that convinced me I had to read:
When Maude Pichon runs away from provincial Brittany to Paris, her romantic dreams vanish as quickly as her savings. Desperate for work, she answers an unusual ad. The Durandeau Agency provides its clients with a unique service—the beauty foil. Hire a plain friend and become instantly more attractive.

Monsieur Durandeau has made a fortune from wealthy socialites, and when the Countess Dubern needs a companion for her headstrong daughter, Isabelle, Maude is deemed the perfect foil.

But Isabelle has no idea her new "friend" is the hired help, and Maude's very existence among the aristocracy hinges on her keeping the truth a secret. Yet the more she learns about Isabelle, the more her loyalty is tested. And the longer her deception continues, the more she has to lose.

I loved that Maude was strong enough to escape Brittany and the fate her father had planned for her.  I loved that she was brave enough to set out on her own, move to Paris with an uncertain future and do whatever it took to survive.  And I also loved when she finally realized that Isabelle--who becomes her true friend throughout the book--is just like her.

Despite their social standings, Isabelle and Maude are both struggling for independence.  Isabelle was one of my most favorite characters in the book.  She was strong-willed, stubborn, and intelligent.  I loved that she had lofty ambitions, and I loved that she helped Maude find her passion for photography.  Both girls had actual interests beyond the "love interest."  And I think that was a beautiful thing to see J.
And the summary doesn't even mention some of my favorite characters: Marie-Josee, an accomplished repoussoir who instantly befriends Maude and helps her through her trials at the agency.  Paul Villette, the bohemian musician, who sees Maude's beauty even when she can't see it herself.  Although Maude makes a few mistakes that had me wanting to smack her upside the head, she really redeems herself in the end.  I enjoyed this historical YA and the compelling story of the repoussoirs.

Happy reading,

Ninja Girl


  1. This sounds like a totally awesome book! I'm going to go and get it post haste. The premise is completely different to anything I've heard of before. I'm glad Maude and Isobelle become friends. There's nothing I hate more at the moment than the mean, pretty, rich girl trope!

    1. I really did enjoy this one--I think mostly b/c I wasn't expecting it. The plot was what hooked me, and then the actual book was interesting/well-written :)