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.
La Belle Epoque is a era that is often times compared to the Roaring Twenties in regards to being the ‘Golden age’. The age is notorious for its flourishing arts and, of course, the common obsession with beauty. Ross has taken an interesting twist on the time by giving birth to the Durandeau Agency, a place where the wealthy can score an ugly friend to carry around as a flattering accessory when need be.
The descriptions of La Belle Epoque France were lovely and it was obvious Elizabeth knows her Parisian scenery. The depiction of social standings and etiquette also come off believable and suiting. Battles faced by the narrator and her peers were both genuine and realistic to the situation at hand and it was nice being able to learn a bit more of life in Paris during La Belle Epoque.
The focus on beauty in the novel gets readers to thinking and the idea that attractiveness is not at the center of love was a good message to be able to derive from the piece of work. With the teen years being the hardest for girls’ self esteems, Belle Epoque is realistic but helps to pave optimism on an unavoidable situation. Maude’s character served as a diplomatically unusual role model. Her sense of self-discovery throughout the novel was enlightening to see happen and despite being a historical fiction, her character still happened to be relatable on some levels.
The importance of friendship in Belle Epoque was refreshing and I found myself attached to the connection between Maude and Isabelle as I read along. While romance is peppered along the pages, Belle Epoque is more a novel about friendship and following your heart more than anything. Isabelle and Maude’s determination and will to push each other to succeed was almost sisterly and made the novel easier to enjoy. Maude’s companionship with fellow Durandeau Agency Marie-Josée was what originally led her to open her eyes to things around her excluding the outer beauty she’s accustomed to searching for and both girls had a noticeable impression on Maude’s way of going about life. Some of Maude’s other relationships with people developed too quick and I couldn’t get used to the idea of her being attached to them after seeing a specific person twice within a month or so time span.
Elizabeth’s writing style was effortless and beautiful but Belle Epoque‘s pacing often dragged and I wish more would have been going on in the plot.
The novel has made its debut as a standalone but a possibly open ending leaves readers guessing what might go on after the final page.
Belle Epoque is a new historical YA with a twist and is great for non-fans of historical fiction who are looking for an era that’s famously known and easy to dive into.
**Special thanks to Elizabeth Ross for the ARC of Belle Epoque**