Book Club: To Capture What We Cannot Keep

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Author: Beatrice Colin
ISBN: 978-1-76029-164-8
RRP: $29.99

To Capture What We Cannot Keep is the first Beatrice Colin novel I have read but certainly not the first she has written. It is set against a late 19th Century Parisian background, one that did not evoke images of the romantic city of love I have come to expect.

In the second half of the 1880s Paris is dirty and poverty stricken but it is also a place filled with artists and passion. The Eiffel Tower was big news and about to be started, though not everyone was happy about it.

The Eiffel Tower plays a large role in To Capture What We Cannot Keep and the research into the work must have been extensive. It was the characters that really made the story though.

Jamie and Alice Arrol are young Scots being cared far by their uncle. We first meet them on their Grand Tour when they stop in Paris before heading home, with their chaperone the widowed Mrs Caitriona Wallace.

Jamie is a ladies man who likes to play the field; he is young, naive and privileged. The plan is for him to join the family business but his work ethic isn’t quite up to scratch.

Alice is at a marriageable age so everything is about finding a suitable match, being seen by the right people and socialising in the right crowds. She is still quite young and her naivety has a pure innocence but she also comes across as quite vapid.

Mrs Caitriona Wallace is the focus point of this threesome and much of the novel. She took on a position as chaperone because after being widowed she was left with few options and the decline to destitution isn’t that far. She is still quite young and should be in the prime of her life but circumstances have seen her placed on a shelf with fewer options than the young Miss Alice.

The slow unveiling of Caitriona’s past is quite emotional in that there is a lot more to her story than first assumed and it is quite sad to think that in those times many women only had one shot at love, marriage and a family. A widow has less options, and is certainly expected to take what is offered without thought to her emotions. A second marriage is more a question of security and should be accepted from wherever it is offered; what a horrid thought that is.

Emile Nouguier is one of the engineers who designed the Eiffel Tower, he is already bucking the family trend by pursuing engineering instead of taking over the reins of the family business. He signs the cheques and has the final say but he runs the business from as large a distance as possible, and isn’t looking like settling to marriage and children anytime soon; much to his ailing aged mother’s dismay.

Emile and Caitriona meet in a hot air balloon high above Paris and the air sparks with possibility, until they return to earth and the vast class difference becomes clear. Cait knows that nothing can come of it and is happy to let it go as they will be returning to Scotland shortly.

Jamie was quite taken with the Parisian life and he engineers a way to head back for an apprenticeship with Nouguier working on the Eiffel Tower; placing himself, Alice and Cait back in Paris for a further two years.

To Capture What We Cannot Keep effortlessly, and seamlessly, weaves historical details with fanciful fiction to create a provocative story of passion in a time where appearances of decorum were paramount but secret trysts and passionate affairs ran rampant.

There has always been quite a difference in the expected, and accepted, behaviours of men and women, and there still is. Regardless of how much progress we make I’m not sure that is ever going to be completely wiped out. To Capture What We Cannot Keep illustrates the huge gap between what was acceptable in the late 19th Century. The difficulties to be faced if you were fortunate enough to find love but it happened to be in the wrong place.

To Capture What We Cannot Keep is passionate, entertaining and enlightening. Yes, the book is a novel of fiction but the historical information about the Eiffel Tower is fascinating. The look at Paris in the late 1880s with its very traditional views and the roles of chaperones makes me glad to be a child of the 21st Century.

Thank you to Beatrice Colin and Allen & Unwin for a captivating read. I will be sure to keep an eye out for other works.

Beatrice Colin can be followed on Facebook, Twitter and her Website.

To Capture What We Cannot Keep is published by Allen & Unwin and available now from Angus & Robertson Bookworld, Booktopia and where all good books are sold.

Thanks to Allen & Unwin 10 of our Beauty and Lace club members will be reading To Capture What We Cannot Keep so please be aware there may be spoilers in the comments below.

11 thoughts on “Book Club: To Capture What We Cannot Keep

  1. Delighted to have been selected to receive this book – looking forward to the delivery and the reading. It will be fascinating reading about Paris of the past and the Eiffel Tower.

  2. If you’re looking for a wonderful romance novel to consume on Valentine’s Day then To Capture What We Cannot Keep is a worthy candidate. This historic fiction book by Beatrice Colin is a good, old-fashioned love story set in the 19th century in Paris after building has commenced on the Eiffel Tower. Some of the real-life characters star in this novel and at the end of the day it’s the kind of tale that makes you realise why Paris is considered the city of love.

    The story’s main character is the complex but likeable, Caitriona Wallace. She’s a young and mostly smart widow from Scotland. Her husband succumbed to an untimely death so in order to make ends meet she agrees to chaperone two annoying, little rich kids to Paris. Nice work if you can get it!

    Catriona’s charges are the disorganised, lazy and privileged lady’s man, Jaime and his flighty younger sister, Alice. The latter is silly and quite often obsessed with appearances and keeping up with the Jones’s. There are quite a few occasions where Alice feels like she could be considered Lydia Bennett’s (Pride & Prejudice) Scottish clone. The similarities to Austen’s novel do not end there, as Colin’s work is also a multi-faceted one where love, revenge, lies, society and manners are all deftly-tackled, albeit in a historic setting.

    This story looks at the burgeoning romance between the low-class, Caitriona and Emile Nouguier, a Frenchman who is an engineer working on the Eiffel Tower and a member of high society. The two have to keep their courtship a secret due to their marked differences in social standing. There is also pressure from Nouguier’s elderly mother because she wants her son to be betrothed to the “right girl.” These ingredients make for a beautifully-written slice of sexy escapism where rules are broken almost as often as they’re followed.

    To Capture What We Cannot Keep is a novel that’s as vibrant, charming and atmospheric as the city of Paris itself. It also shares a few things in common with great romance stories by Austen or more recently Natasha Lester’s A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald. To Capture What We Cannot Keep is an absolute treat, an evocative and easy read where you can sit back, relax and enjoy the warm embrace of a sumptuous historic drama and a beguiling romance that is tres magnifique.

  3. The cover of To Capture What We Cannot Keep is exquisite and sets the tone for a lovely, gentle novel that often has less than gentle outcomes. I just loved the way the building of The Eiffel Tower formed the backdrop of the novel, the research was obviously excellent. I was transported back in time with the building of one of the most iconic and beautiful structures in the world and given so much information I had no idea of. I had no idea that Gustave Eiffel wasn’t the only person involved in the design and “meeting” Emile Nouguier was adding another layer of history to my life long love of the beautiful structure.

    Caitriona Wallace is sad, delightful and so much more “modern” than her time period, someone you’d love to be friends with. She is Chaperone to two, at times, incredibly stupid and naïve individuals but it is delightful watching Alice grow up as the story evolves. There were many times when I would have shaken Jamie if I’d been able to.

    The wonder of The Eiffel Tower, rising from the ground up in construction, making the structure come to life, makes this novel special for me. I was able to feel part of the construction, from the foundations to the glory and beauty that stands today.
    “There wasn’t a lot to see at first. All the site did was to confirm what people had already thought : the construction would be a monstrosity, a truly tragic lamppost.”

    Beatrice Colin is an author I was not familiar with. I enjoyed the easy flow of her writing and particularly the way historical fact was woven into the lives of the characters. The lives of women must have been challenging, especially for someone like Cait who wasn’t prepared to simply take what was available. She really did come through as a wonderful, strong and lovely person.

    I am extremely pleased that this novel was introduced to me and I thank Beauty and Lace and Allen and Unwin for the privilege. The beauty of The Eiffel Tower for me has grown with the reading of the historical detail so well integrated with the different class structure of the individuals. It does indeed, come to life.

  4. Thankyou Beautyandlace and Beatrice Colin for allowing me to read and review ‘To Capture What we Cannot Keep.
    This was a book that brought alive Paris in 1886, the lavish lifestyle of some and the social times of that era.. I enjoyed the history, the Frenchness and the wonderful story woven in the pages.
    Caitriona (Cait) Wallace a widow is hired by William Arrol as a paid companion for his nephew, Jamie, and niece Alice, for a six month visit to Europe. William runs a successful engineering business in Glasgow, Scotland. During their stay in Paris Cait whilst on a hot-air balloon ride comes into contact with Emile Nouguier. He is an engineer involved in the construction of a tower for Gustave Eiffell. The tower to be the tallest in the World is being constructed for the World Fair, constructed of iron and to withstand wind speeds of 150 miles an hour, and to be completed by 1889.
    Cait, Jamie and Alice return to Glasgow, and after some time William Arrol approaches Cait and offers her again to become a chaperone to his nephew and niece. Jamie has the chance of an apprenticeship to Gustave Eiffell in Paris, and their uncle is hoping Alice will make a suitable Paris. Cait accepts willingly anxious to escape an unwanted romantic interest.
    They arrive in Paris and again meet up with Emile with Cait striking up a close frienship with him.

    This book is wonderfully interesting, the characters are so real. Jamie is irresponsible, Alice is naive and Cait is lovely, but because she is a widow and not wealthy feels outclassed.
    The characters, the romance and history make this such a great read..
    I couldn’t put it down, I enjoyed it immensely and think it would make a marvellous movie!

  5. “To Capture What We Cannot Keep” is a love story set in the late 1880s, largely in Paris. It’s very enjoyable, and goes in directions not entirely expected for a period novel.

    The Eiffel Tower is rising, intended to last just twenty years, but still a marvel of mathematics and engineering. And an enormous gamble for those financing and building it. Emile Nouguier is one of the engineers; while taking photographic plates from a hot air balloon, he meets Caitriona Wallace. The attraction is immediate.

    But Caitriona, largely destitute after her husband’s death, is the chaperone of two young Scots; seeing the world, keeping Jamie out of trouble, and perhaps finding a husband for Alice. Their uncle thinks Emile might be a suitable match. Caitriona is torn between her completely inappropriate attraction, her responsibilities as chaperone, and the social niceties. Emile himself is under pressure to find a suitable wife, but an impoverished Scottish widow would most definitely not be suitable.

    The novel does focus in part on the restrictions placed on women at the time, but unlike many period novels where the women rail against them, here Cait and Alice and the others quietly accept them even when they chafe under them. They don’t really think much about these conventions and restrictions – they just exist, and you live with them. This was an interesting difference, and I think probably reflective of the way a lot of women lived.

    The romance and passion is also understated. It’s not unfeeling, but Colin doesn’t treat us to heaving bosoms or explicit recountings of what people fantasise about, or do. I found this subtlety another pleasure of the novel – you know exactly what’s going on, but you’re invited to use your imagination.

    I found this novel believable and enjoyable; it will really appeal to those who like historical novels, but also like a little subtlety in the writing.

  6. To Capture What We Cannot Keep
    A wonderful easy to read romance BY Beatrice Colin .I sat down and started reading and couldn’t leave this book .Set in 1887 in Paris as the Eiffel Tower is beginning to be built and the following years its the story of Caitriona a widow who is chaperone to Jamie and his sister Alice on a visit to Parishaving been sent by their Uncle . Both who are headstrong and wilful young adults who really aren’t upper class but believe they are
    .It is a story of the times the restrictions on wdows their place in both France and Scottish Society..It also gives a insight to the building of the Eiffel Town through Caits love interest Emile Nouguier who is the engineer of the project .It shows the class distinction of the era the values morals and that the men had much more freedom than women . It also delved into the era of young women having to make a suitable wealthy match as we follow Alice’s trails of love .and how Jamie also has to make a suitable match in marriage
    It also has the beginnings of the Panamá Canal and the politics involved .It was a joy to read

  7. A beautiful Historical romance set in the magical inspiring time of the building of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Was an amazing way to learn about the back story of the building of the tower intertwined with a very real romantic story.
    Really loved the strong independent heroine Caitriona Wallace. A woman who carved her own way in a time where socially women’s paths were very constrained by societal ideas of what was appropriate for a young widow to do. Was really happy that she found love at the end. In spite of dealing with an abusive husband in a loveless marriage she never gives up on true love.
    The love story between Emile Nouguier is truly beautiful and withstands all the odds. The social differences between them was frustrating and had me really wishing Emile would defy the pressure from his ageing dying mother and find happiness and follow his own path in the world.
    The side by side story of the brother and sister Jamie and Alive who are Caitrionas two charges is also very revealing of the harmful impact of societal pressures that demand that personal happiness be put aside in favour of propriety and the toll this takes on them. Their spoilt life style is juxtaposed with the difficulty faced by Caitriona who is of a lower social class.

    Overall a beautiful historical novel with a very real down to earth love story. Really enjoyed the book!

  8. There is something glamorous and intriguing about this time in history that just draws you into this book. Colin has created a unique and interesting story surrounding the construction of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. There are also beautiful passages and gorgeous descriptions of the fashion and lifestyle during the time period. However, the main character, Cait, goes through so many personality changes that I had a hard time liking her as a character towards the end of the novel.

    While there are numerous aspects of the novel that I adored, the protagonist Cait, is one that I found relatable at first and then at about 3/4 of the way through the book became a somewhat dislikable character.

    Without spoiling too much of the plot, I will just say that I was disappointed with the lack of direction she gave to the young adults that she was chaperoning. I felt that for someone who is trying to break the norms of society and find her own place in the world, she could have been more inspiring and helpful to Alice and Jamie.

    It is quite an enjoyable historical fiction that provides a window to an era long forgotten. Although the main character fell flat for me, I do think that those who enjoy historical fiction will find this novel quite enjoyable.

  9. Francophiles will flock to this beautiful historical romance, set against the revolutionary construction of the Eiffel Tower in the late 1880’s. To Capture What We Cannot Keep will entice any reader who selects this novel, to book their ticket to see this spectacular landmark. This book offered me the chance to reminisce about my two trips in the past to see the Eiffel Tower and surrounds.

    To Capture What We Cannot Keep begins on a cold winter’s day in February 1887. Caitriona Wallace, a Scottish widow, turned chaperone, is in Paris with her charges. Siblings Alice and Jamie Arrol, the niece and nephew of the wealthy builder are on a grand tour of Europe. Part of this grand tour is stop in Paris and an opportunity of a lifetime, to embark on a hot air balloon ride above Paris. This spectacular ride also takes its occupants across the construction site of the Eiffel Tower, set for completion for the 1889 world’s fair. High above Paris, sparks fly in this hot air balloon as Caitriona meets Emile Nouguier, an engineer second in charge to Gustave Eiffel, the tower’s inventor. When they reach the ground, Emile and Caitriona quickly realise their romance is doomed by class and wealth. Caitriona is a woman reduced in wealth due to her husband’s death, Emile in contrast, is from a wealthy bourgeoisie background. Emile’s family expects him to soon take over their business and take a wife. Emile knows his family would not accept a woman of Caitriona’s class or the fact that she is also a foreigner. When Caitriona returns to Scotland after the tour ends she turns down advances to enter marriage again. She still believes in true love, hoping to one day be reunited with Emile. Meanwhile, Emile battles with a tumultuous relationship with an enigmatic figure, Gabrielle, an artist’s wife. When an opportunity presents itself for Caitriona to return to Paris and back into Emile’s arms, the couple must decide if their love for one another can surpass class and finance.

    When the opportunity arose to review this book, I literally jumped at the chance. Those who know me well know how much I adore anything Paris related. To Capture What We Cannot Keep satisfied my hunger for reading any story set in what would be my most favourite place in the world, Paris. To Capture What We Cannot Keep offers the reader the ideal combination of romance, fused with a historical commentary on Paris, at a time of great change. Colin is skilled in her ability to bring 1880’s Paris to life for her audience. It was a joy to step back in time and experience this momentous time in France’s history.

    Although this story is fictional, Colin chooses to insert a real life character, Emile Nouguier, at the front and centre of her story. To Capture What We Cannot Keep also features Gustave Eiffel, the man behind the inception and construction of the famous tower. While Caitriona and the siblings she is chaperoning are fictional, all come across as well formed by Colin.

    Romance and Paris seem to go hand in hand and To Capture What We Cannot Keep features a delightful love story. Caitriona and Emile’s love story is sweet but also features moments of inner struggle. Colin highlights the issues of the time that are outside their control, such as class divisions. The romance side of the novel also allows Colin to explore a significant issue, the plight of women in this era. The unfolding story makes us see how Caitriona is restricted to follow her heart and fall completely in love with Emile. Colin draws our attention to women of Caitriona’s social standing, who were offered little choice in their lives, especially in relation to love. Caitriona’s predicament was heartbreaking and frustrating, making me see how we should not take the freedom to love who we want for granted in the present day.

    To Capture What We Cannot Keep is a dazzling story of the risks taken in love and life, in an age of social restriction and revolution. It delivers the perfect combination of history and romance to its audience and I am sure it will have wide appeal.

    *I wish to thank Beauty and Lace for providing me with a copy of this book for review purposes.

  10. Caitriona (Cait) Wallace a recent widow is a companion to two young Scottish siblings Jamie and Alice who are on the Grand Tour of the continent. Cait while enjoying a hot air ballon ride with her charges in Paris meets Èmile Nouguier, an engineer who is working on the building of the Eiffel Tower for the World Trade Show of 1889.
    There is an instant attraction but Cait and Èmile live in separate worlds in the class distinction age of the 1880s. Cait is struggling to make ends meet since her husband died in a tragic accident and Èmile is being pressured to find a suitable wife.

    The building of the Eiffel Tower is the backdrop to this very entertaining and highly enjoyable story. I love historical fiction and this book did not disappoint. It is primarily a love story in an age where love comes second to family expectations, responsibilities and societal proprieties.

  11. Firstly thank you to Beatrice Colin and Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read and review this book.

    Although this book was set a little earlier than I usually read, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was fascinating learning about the building of the Eiffel Tower and laughing at perspectives such as the idea that it was going to only be around for approximately 20 years. Ah the benefit of hindsight!

    There were characters I loved like Catriona and Emile and those I loved to hate such as Alice, Catriona’s charge – a sign of a fantastic author when I become that involved that I hate characters but love the storyline!

    I had not heard of Beatrice Colin before reading this title but will definitely be on the lookout for some of her previous and forthcoming works now!

    Thank you also of course to Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to review this fabulous book!

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