The Velvet Hours: A Novel. Alyson Richman. Penguin Publishing Group. September 2016. 384 pp. ISBN#: 9780425266267.
Solange Beaugiron discovers that her father was adopted and finally gets to meet her grandmother, Marthe de Florian, who has literally reinvented herself. Everyone who has grown up very poor has a different reaction to it and very few would repeat those years of struggle and adversity. Some will do anything to escape its death-like grip!
Just when Marthe meets Charles, a rich married man who adores Marthe and keeps her in luxury for the rest of her life, Europe is about to experience its own hell spawned by Adolf Hitler. Little, however, touches Marthe, even in times of crushing starvation for the rest of France. This then is the story that Marthe shares with her granddaughter as they struggle to share their lives, a relationship that grows from storyteller to author to a deep abiding love between grandmother and granddaughter.
It would seem a simple story initially, one that’s actually been told by others in many and different ways. But the magic of The Velvet Hours lies in the appreciation and celebration of beauty, whether that be in Marthe’s collection of Far Eastern cups, pottery and other items or in the lovely and priceless pearls Charles gives to Marthe for her financial security “forever.” Then there is the magnificent portrait of Marthe commissioned by Charles from the famous painter, Giovanni Baldini, with its vibrant colors but most of all its living essence that has captured the spark of life constantly emanated by Marthe.
Add to this Belle Époque tale a lovely romance experienced by Solange as she learns about a Jewish text she has inherited that was hand-created with beautiful illustrations. As Hitler approaches, momentous decisions must be made whether to stay or leave Paris.
No spoilers here – as there is so much more about Marthe and Solange that makes for engaging attention and an unrelenting desire to know what will happen next.
Alyson Richman has created a story replete with the most beautiful descriptions of art, food, ancient books and more and interspersed with the nerve-wracking tensions brought on by WWII. Readers will love this superb story and will be recommending it to everyone they know. Highly recommended historical fiction!