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The stories of three women are skilfully braided together in this tale of love and a family secret. We first meet Annie, a young recent graduate, newly engaged to her marine boyfriend. She is sure of her love for him but feels some reservation about their rush into marriage after only a few months. With her fiancé’s immediate deployment to war, Annie tags along with her mother Laurel to Banbury, England on a trip that leads to the unravelling of a family secret.
Laurel, a single mother and hard-working lawyer, is in England to finalise negotiations for the sale of a property she owns there. Just how she came to own it when she has no family is something of a mystery to Annie, as is the old, blue book she catches her mother clinging to on the night of their departure. A literature major, Annie is intrigued and is amazed to discover that the subject of the biography is one Duchess of Marlborough; a famous eccentric aristocrat who denied her title and grew increasingly mad, living out her days in the very village her mother’s property is in.
Over the course of a few days spent talking to a village local, Annie unwinds the behind the scenes background of the book. The more Annie talks to Gus, the more she is fascinated not only by the question of whether or not the crazed old lady Gladys Spencer was really the missing Duchess, but also the growing relationship between the writer and Gladys’s young American companion, the quiet and sweet Pru.
I’ll See You in Paris is cleverly interwoven via three perspectives, Annie’s time in Banbury talking to Gus and investigating, the events happening during the writing of the book and also through excerpts from the biography itself – set out as chapter introductions, they relate the life and personality of the Duchess herself.
Gable has written a wonderful tale and is skilled at showing us what her characters are like rather than telling us about them and this is particularly well done in the banter of the manuscript transcriptions:
“GD: I believe he passed. That’s the problem I often faced, seeing as how I was so much younger than everyone I consorted with.
WS: That’s not true. I meant the first part! Please! Calm down! No need to throw things, Mrs Spencer.”
Her characters are full and unique with personalities that fit together well and keep you entertained. Gladys/The Duchess is such a hoot, you can’t help but admire her madness and spirit. Even more so when you learn via the Author’s note that Gladys Spencer, aka the Duchess of Marlborough really existed and Gable has included many direct quotes and true stories of her famous escapades in life.
If you are looking for a whimsical read for a lazy weekend, I’ll See You in Paris is perfect. As all good chick-lit stories do, this one sees the characters change and grow as they reach their happy endings.
Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen
I’ll See You in Paris
by Michelle Gable
Published by Thomas Dunne Books