BOOK CLUB: The Woman From St Germain

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Author: J.R. Lonie
ISBN: 9781925750621
RRP: $29.99
Publication Date: March 2019
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher

The Woman from Saint Germain is the first novel by J. R. Lonie, AKA John Lonie renowned screenwriter, script editor and playwright, co-writer of the feature film Kokoda, and one of the writers on the television series A Place to Call Home.

Historical fiction has always been one of my favourite genres, but I also think it is one of the hardest genres to write.  When done well you become immersed in the history of the period. The fictional aspects enable you to experience the realities of the time being written about, draw you in and give you a depth of understanding of the period that just reading a historical account never could.

This book centres on the character Eleanor Gorton Clarke, an American celebrated author living in Paris at the start of World War 2.  Although her French lover has been killed fighting the German invasion, Eleanor considers that being an American she is safe in the country she loves, and so she chooses not to return to the safety of her family when she could easily do so.

So, when America joins the Allies in the fight against the Germans, she suddenly finds herself trapped in an increasingly German occupied country and realises that she must join those trying to flee the oppressors.

Armed only with highly sought after American Chesterfield cigarettes, her favourite perfumes and other cosmetics, and incongruously a first edition copy of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, Eleanor seeks to escape the only way left, through a local passeur, to Vichy France and then across the border to Spain.

Along the way she becomes entangled with a sullen young man, and the kitten that hides in his coat. Despite their dislike and distrust of each other, they must work together to escape to freedom, with the Gestapo snapping at their heels and internment or worse their fate if caught.

It is clear that Lonie has done his research for this book. He documents well the trials and tribulations of those trying to escape Nazi occupied France during the war, and the experiences of those members of the Wermacht identified as Mischling, outed as Jews because a parent without their knowledge had been born Jewish. I am unclear to what extent the character of Eleanor is founded on fact and have the impression that she is a blend of fact, fantasy and gross exaggeration.

For me, while the book is well written, with interesting characters, it was not an easy book to engage with.  Reading the blurb at the end about the author, my disengagement became clarified as I realised that to me the book read like a screenplay with a bit extra to try to make it into a novel.  Personally, I think this book would make an excellent film or telemovie and I’d be very interested to read what others who have been given the opportunity to read and review the book think.

My thanks as always to Beauty and Lace Book Club and Simon and Schuster for the opportunity to read and review The Woman from Saint Germain.

I give it 3.5 stars.

This guest review was submitted by our Beauty and Lace Club member: Marcia. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Marcia.

The Woman from St Germain is published by Simon and Schuster and is available now were all good books are sold.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster 20 of our Beauty and Lace Club members will be reading The Woman from St Germain so please be aware there may be spoilers in the comments below.

14 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: The Woman From St Germain

  1. This book tells an amazing story about two people from such different backgrounds fleeing the same thing. we also see how the same war affects those who are chasing them.. It should have been a gripping page turner but, for some reason, I just couldn’t connect with them as people..

  2. Being the main character in this story, Eleanor appears as a strong willed and engaged celebrated writer. The story has many degrees of twists to it and could be an interesting and intriguing story. For me though I found it difficult to read and really struggled with the characters and story line. I managed to read it thought through to the end but it didn’t hold its appeal as a readable novel. I don’t like not being able to properly review a book from Beauty & Lace, however this story I cannot do a review justice and I do apologise for this.

  3. The Woman of Saint Germain starts before the USA entered WWII. The main character is an American woman and we follow her as she tries to escape France. The historical theme of the book and the research fell true however the main character just did not do it for me. I understand it was interesting for the author to throw a rich American out of her comfort zone, however it went too far. On one side she is helping and showing compassion and courage, on the other she is selfish and completely out of touch with the war reality. Her behaviour would have got her killed in no time. The story of the second protagonist Henk made me finish the book because it discussed aspects of the Nazim ideology not often raised.
    I would not recommend this book as the story was not credible.
    I thank Beauty and Lace and Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to review this book.

  4. Thank you for the opportunity to read “The Woman from St Germain” by JR (John) Lonie This book is set in Paris at the start of WW11. . The main character Eleanor, is a famous, wealthy American author, living in France.. She see no reason to leave. Then as the War escalates she realises she must leave.
    The story has many turns and there is much detail of the Jews and their different plights under the Nazi regime. Occasionally I thought I had lost the thread of the story and had to read back. However I think the book gives great insight into how life was for different people at the time.
    Eleanor meets a man very unlike her, at first she thinks him to be a thief. Their lives are thrown together and they plan a difficult escape over the mountains to Spain.
    She believes he shows her what true love is, however they are separated and she thinks he is dead.. Later it is shown that love has many faces and true love, understanding and compassion can appear when least expected.
    Eleanor, continues, alone, and manages to escape and finally find her way to America.. There are some fascinating twists in this story, that I did not see or anticipate. I really enjoyed the book, its historical content seems factual and the role played by the partsans and Church in protecting the Jews and other refugees.

  5. Firstly, thank you Marcia for the well written and thoughtful review.
    Generally I am a fan of historical fiction but I found this book difficult to read and The first few chapters were, for me, disconnected but there were some interesting twists to make the last chapters more intriguing.,There were no characters which appealed to me and Eleanor was especially annoying. The historical aspects of the novel were obviously well researched but I think this was not well represented by the superficial nature of the characters. I agree with Marcia, perhaps a tele-movie might better suit this storyline.

  6. Thank you Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to review ‘The Woman from Saint Germain’.

    II found this book a little difficult to engage with at the beginning, however it did improve and become more intriguing once the main characters were established, (Eleanor and Henk).

    Eleanor Gortion Clarke (the main character) frustrated me at times, I felt the way in which she dangerously snd superficially conducted herself in a Nazi occupied country, would have had her killed in reality. That said, it was a unique read in that it is not often to read about a nazi occupied country in WW2 centered around the life of an American.

    It was certainly intriguing and with some twists, and as a reader I found myself able to imagine the storyline (would definitely make a good movie) but I didn’t feel any connection/emotions with
    the characters, which I normally would in reading the plight of someone/people escaping the Gestapo. I did like how we also see the perspective and lives of the people who are chasing the main characters.

    All in all, I did enjoy this book, however I do enjoy reading books from this war genre, and although I wasn’t overly engaged with the characters, I did feel the plot twists, historical facts and intrigue were enough to enjoy reading the book in its entirety and would recommend this book as a readable novel.

  7. From the title I presumed that this book would be about a woman who was deeply entrenched into enemy lines, a spy perhaps, think the white mouse. It wasn’t, but none the less it was an intriguing novel that I couldn’t put down.
    Eleanor frustrated me. She came across as naïve and a little bit of an air head. But then that’s what made the whole story intriguing. It amazed me at the end how she got away with so much. Her blissful awareness ( or lack of it) of life made her courageous. Henk was a bit of a dark horse and why they became travel companions in such a time sounds impossible, but that’s the nature of survival and creates the best stories. I grew to become quite fond of him.
    I also enjoyed the view from the German policeman, Bauer, and his offsider Kopitcke who are complete opposites as well. One we see the human side and the other so rigid in views and character.
    The writer wound us around and around and drew everything together at the end. And as I said, I couldn’t put it down; I had to know what was coming. Wonderful narrative and descriptions of the time, places and events.

    Also Well done to Marcia and her review!

  8. The Woman From Saint Germain I could not get into the book at first then I gave it a chance and I started to understand what the story was about you cannot judge a book by its cover.
    Eleanor Gortion Clarke had a husband that was a cheat and die and she had to take care of herself.
    She had to leave Germany or be put in prison that’s when the twist and turns of the book come alive.
    A good read.

  9. I enjoyed this book and couldn,t wait to see where it finished.probably a bit far fetched but books are supposed to take us out of ourselves. Thanks for the opportunity

  10. This is quite a tense book, an ‘on the run’ and ‘on the road’ book, as an American woman tries to flee Nazi occupied France to get back to America after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. At first she thinks she will find it relatively easy, given Germany isn’t at war with America, but shortly after that Germany does declare war on America. The race is now on for Eleanor Clarke to find passage out of France by whatever means she can. She inadvertently partners up with a younger man, Henk. They become uneasy allies, not really liking each other, but two are better than one and they end up depending on each other.

    There were a few weaknesses in the story. Eleanor persists in smoking Chesterfields at a time when the Gestapo are searching for an American woman who smokes American cigarettes, at times using them as bribes and currency. She also wastes precious money on perfume when funds are vital for bribes and such to purchase their passages. I thought something like that would be too ridiculous for the vainest woman to even contemplate – even though she is labelled as vain. Then she wears the perfume, liberally, and the Gestapo also pick up on that clue. When the search for them reaches the mountains, Eleanor doesn’t seem to realise she shouldn’t scent herself or smoke, as both things would be smelled by their pursuers. She also asks the waiters openly at cafes and hotels and such about buying passages/hiring guides to leave. She seems here quite reckless, and it does lead them into peril a few times, only staying one small step ahead of their hunters.

    Henk has rescued a kitten, and so they become quite a distinctive pair: the man with the kitten and the American woman who really does stand out.

    Still, against the odds, it is a tense race against time and the Gestapo, who become incredibly dogged about keeping on their trail.

    There’s a pretty good twist towards the end I certainly didn’t expect, and that upped the odds even more. Very exciting to read. Thankyou to Beauty & Lace Book Club and Simon & Schuster for the review copy.

  11. Thank you Beauty and Lace Club for giving me the opportunity to read this book.

    This is not a genre of book that I usually read and I found it difficult to initially get into.

    I did read the book in its entirety and although I found it a bit unrealistic I did enjoy it.

  12. My thanks to Beauty & Lace & also Simon & schuster for the opportunity to review The Woman from Saint Germain

    Usually I love to read historical novels but found this one difficult to firstly get into & it went downhill from there I did finish it but agree with other readers it should have been a telemovie
    couldn’t relate to the characters or find one I liked although the facts of history were well written & explored
    Sorry not one I can really relate to or rate for other readers

  13. Thank you to Beauty and Lace and Simon and Schuster for the opportunity to read The Woman from Saint Germain.

    I didn’t know what to expect from the book but was pleasantly surprised and found the story easy to read and follow. The story is told from different viewpoints and follows Eleanor, an American stranded in Paris as she flees across Europe as war breaks out. Using her wits and the help of a German soldier, Eleanor plays a game of cat and mouse with the German policeman who is after them.

    The book touches on themes of relationships, religion, politics.

    I look forward to reading more from author JR Lonie.

  14. I loved the idea but really felt it seemed “rushed” and not fully developed and somewhat farfetched in places.

    As others have said this seems to be more fitting as a screen play tv series than a book

    I managed to finish but it ended up a chore to do so.

    Proves we cant love everything we read, which is not a bad thing, otherwise the world of fiction would be very narrow

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