I was super excited to read this book for book club this month. I love anything having to do with history, especially the Second World War. And bonus! The Lost Girls of Paris is about the women who helped the Allies win the war. It seemed, then, to be a guaranteed home run. Spoiler alert! It wasn’t. I was beyond disappointed by this novel.
~ The Lost Girls of Paris ~
One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, Grace Healey finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.
Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a network of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.
Vividly rendered and inspired by true events, New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff shines a light on the incredible heroics of the brave women of the war and weaves a mesmerizing tale of courage, sisterhood and the great strength of women to survive in the hardest of circumstances.
~ My Review ~
I loved the concept of this book. It is based on real history. A history almost forgotten of how women were also dropped behind enemy lines during the Second World War knowing the chance of survival was low. This type of novel is right up my alley, but I ran into problems almost immediately. The idea that Grace was obsessed with finding the identity of women in some photographs she happened upon in a train station didn’t ring true. Why was she obsessed? Maybe it was meant as some type of escapism for Grace from her life but for me it fell flat.
Unfortunately, I didn’t connect with any of the female protagonists in this novel and boy did I want to. There’s nothing I like more in a novel than strong female leads. But – in my humble opinion – each of the main female characters – Grace, Eleanor, and Marie – felt one-dimensional and underdeveloped. Their motivations were lacking. Why, for example, did Marie leave her daughter to go fight in a war from which her chances of returning were minuscule? It was almost as if the writer threw together characteristics of several people into these three main women making them feel anything but real.
Although this novel is based on a true story (you can read the biography of Vera Atkins in A Life in Secrets by Sarah Helm), the novel itself didn’t feel realistic. When being recruited, Marie asks Eleanor if her work would be like the code breakers at Bletchley Park. But no one knew what the people at Bletchley Park were doing until well after the war. And how the heck did Eleanor manage to talk to a Nazi being sent to trial in Nuremburg? Although the real Vera Atkins did manage this, I didn’t believe the Eleanor portrayed would have managed to even get into the same compound let alone into a prison cell to perform an interrogation.
Jenoff didn’t make the time and locations come alive. Instead of smoothly filling the reader in on the historical background piece by piece and, thus, making the reader feel as if she were in France or New York of the 1940s, information was unceremoniously dumped on the reader. It made the novel feel choppy.
The love affairs the characters had didn’t ring true either. Marie fell almost instantly in love with Vesper, a man who initially treats her like an idiot. Their final scene together was unrealistic to the point it would have fit nicely into a second rate Hollywood romance. Grace’s ‘affair’ with her dead husband’s best friend was unbelievable.
Unfortunately, I must conclude by saying I wouldn’t recommend this novel.