BOOK CLUB: Love Letters from Montmartre

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Author: Nicolas Barreau
ISBN: 9780349423463
Publisher: Hachette Australia

Love Letters from Montmartre has been translated from German by Daniela Thiele. The author, Nicholas Barreau, was born in Paris, the son of a French father and German mother. He studied romance languages and literature at the Sorbonne and has worked in a bookshop on the Rive Gauche in Paris. 

The main character in this novel is Julien Azoulay a novelist who is famous for his comedic romances.  The novel starts shortly after Julien has lost his beloved wife Hélène to cancer leaving him alone with their young son Arthur.   Hélène is buried in the famous Montmartre cemetery (where they met) and Julien is struggling to cope with life, to care for his son and to write again. Before she died Hélène made Julien promise that he would write 33 letters to her after her death (one for each year of her life).  Julien is finding it incredibly hard to start the first and can’t understand why he should but of course he does and his life begins to change.

This is a truly delightful novel, I enjoyed the many different Parisienne characters (many of which it appears are heavy smokers), Jean-Pierre Favre, Julien’s publisher, who is a gentlemen and cares about his author.   Cathérine, Hélène’s friend, who lives in the same block as Julien and Arthur, and Alexandra Bondy Julien’s closest friend who is a goldsmith and someone who doesn’t take any nonsense even from his closest friend.  

At one of Julien’s visits to Hélène’s grave he meets Sophie Claudel a stoneworker who repairs the monuments in the cemetery and a new friendship begins.  At the same time something strange starts happening with Julien’s letters to Hélène.

This novel addresses grief and how it affects us all, how sometimes we want to believe in miracles and how difficult it is to move on with life when we lose a loved one.  It is also a novel of hope and new beginnings.   The beauty of Paris shines through in the story through the author’s charming descriptions.  The writing is lovely, the novel flows well, the characters are all ones it’s easy to believe in and care about – well apart perhaps from Madame Grenouille, the grumpy busybody in Julien’s apartment block. 

Now I did say earlier that this novel was written by Nicolas Barreau but it appears there is some mystery around the author as the preface of the book refers to the name also being a pseudonym concealing the identity of a mysterious literary figure, unreachable except through his editor.  Or is it her editor??? 

As you can tell I really did enjoy this novel and I thoroughly recommend it as an uplifting read.  I’ll certainly be looking for the author’s other novels.   Thank you to the publishers Hachette, via Piatkus, and the Beauty and Lace bookclub for the opportunity to read this novel. 

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading this book. You can read their comments below, or contribute to the discussion by leaving your own feedback.

7 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: Love Letters from Montmartre

  1. A truly heartfelt story about Julien Azoulay and the love letters he writes to his deceased wife Helene as told by Julien Azoulay.
    Julien is a successful writer, who made a promise to his dying wife that after she died he would write 33 letters to her. One for each year of her life! She somehow knew that once all 33 letters had been written his life would be better. Grieving and caring for his young son Arthur seemed to much many times for Julien. How would he recover from his grief and love for his wife.
    As the story evolves and each letter is written several friends appear to help him recover. However, a meeting with a graveyard sculpture, Sophie, slowly changed his life.
    Written in Paris, capturing Rue Gabrielle and Montmartre cemetery, you feel compelled to keep reading as dreams, sadness and love are mixed to heal grieve.
    A beautiful story about lost love and new love.

  2. Julien Azoulay, a romantic comedy novelist, loses his beloved wife Helene to cancer when she’s only 33. She makes him promise to write her 33 letters when she dies, one for each year of her life, saying his life will be better by the end. Julien doesn’t believe her, and the stuttering starts he makes to countless letters he never finishes are heartbreaking. He has writer’s block. He and his little motherless boy, Arthur, visit Helene frequently in the Montmartre Cemetery, which is actually where he met her. An angel decorates her headstone, along with this beautiful poem: ‘Come, my love/be mine again/Like once in May’. Too, too sad. After a visit from his editor, Julien suddenly finishes a letter to Helene, telling her all about her funeral, and ‘delivers’ it to her in the cemetery – and so his writer’s block is broken. There are many people who care in Julien’s life: his devoted mother, his neighbour and Helene’s best friend, his fairly confronting jeweller friend, his editor, and a young female stonemason he meets at the cemetery, often around when he visits, who gives him whimsical comfort and smiles. We don’t get to read all 33 of Julien’s letters, but the ones we do are beautiful love letters to his wife. They show his love for Arthur and his fondness for the people around him, even in his fog of grief. Gradually, almost accidentally, there comes a time when Julien can look around and see things in a new light. And when he can, there comes the promise of new, wonderful things. Such a touching story.

  3. I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy Love Letters From Montmartre, as it is not the type of novel I would typically pick up to read. However I was quickly captivated by this book and thoroughly enjoyed it.
    Author Nicolas Barreau has successfully developed characters I felt I came to know and placed them in a story of the greatest sadness and grief, romance and love which culminated in the conclusion that it’s never too late to realise your dreams.
    Main character Julian Azoulay has not long lost the love of his life, Helene, at only 33 years of age. Julien is so grief stricken that he can’t focus on writing his next novel and is only going through the motions of life for the sake of his young son. But, as Julian forces himself to keep his last promise to Helene before her death, to write her a letter for each year of her life, he slowly works through his grief and loss and finds a reason to live and enjoy life once again.
    Set largely in the cemetery where Helene is buried, Cimetiere Montmarte in Paris, not only does Julien survive his loss, but finds new hope, love and happiness. The storyline is raw and real as it deals with the most difficult of subjects and takes readers on a journey of understanding that death and loss, as painful as it is, is a part of life and not the end of life.
    I would highly recommend this novel.
    Thank you Beauty and Lace and Hachette Publishing Australia for the opportunity to read and review Love Letters from Montmartre.

  4. Thank you to Beauty and Lace Book Club and Hachette Australia for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

    This book was a nice read, but for me at least, it wasn’t a great read. It wasn’t until well over halfway that I wanted to keep reading to see how it turned out.

    This was a nice story about a man who is drowning in grief after the loss of his wife, he has just about checked out from his life and if it wasn’t for his young son, he wouldn’t feel any need to carry on.

    Through a promise he made his wife before she dies, he makes himself start writing letters to her about his life now that she has gone, and he leaves them in a draw he had made in her headstone at the cemetery. Through these letters, he learns to live with his grief and to eventually find reasons to keep on living and to love again.

    There is a mystery that starts part-way through when his letters disappear and there are little tokens left in their place. It sends him into a bit of a tether while he tries to determine who is leaving them and whether they are messages from his wife from beyond the grave. 

    A sweet novel with a lovely message and a happy outcome.

  5. Thank you for the opportunity to read & review this novel.

    This is the first novel I have read by this author.

    It was a nice Sunday afternoon read, about a man who is a romantic comedy novelist, He has started to write a novel when his wife dies & leave shim with their young son. Engulfed in his grief & love for his wife he is unable to continue writing & shuts himself off from the world for a little while. His promise to his wife of writing her 33 letters & caring for his son is what ulitmately helps him help heal his grief & continue living.

    His need to believe that his wife is reading his letters shows how losing somone you love so much can alter the way you think & see things.

    I am going to forward this novel on to a friend who has recently lost her husband & maybe it will help her heal in a little way

  6. Thank you to Beauty and Lace and Hachette Australia for the opportunity to read and review ‘Love letters from Montmartre’ by Nicolas Barreau.

    The story begins with Julien Azoulay’s wife passing away. The book is about his grief and him keeping a promise to his late wife to write her 33 letters about his life without her. This is her attempt to move Julien forward from being stuck in his paralysing grief from losing her. The love of his life.

    At the beginning of Julien writing the letters you wonder how he will be able to move out of a place of immense grief. However, while writing the 33 letters Julien encounters some surprises, which lead him to mini adventures of sorts. The adventures make Julien question whether Helene his late wife is communicating with him from her grave or if there are other explanations.

    There were a lot of things I enjoyed about this book. I enjoyed the characters… especially Sophie, Alexandre and Julien’s family. I would have enjoyed reading about them more. I enjoyed not knowing where the letters would take Julien and not knowing the answer behind the mysterious communications. I also really enjoyed the book setting in Paris. The cemetery of Montmartre sounds like an interesting cemetery… one that if you were in France you would add to your itinerary.

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