January 19, 2015
Lady Helena, daughter of London aristocrats, almost loses her life due to scarlet fever. She survives and promises herself that she will live a more full life than before. Unfortunately, her fellow aristocratic fiancé broke off their engagement when he returned from the battlefields of the Great War. In their circles, most believed Lady Helena ended their engagement due to the gentleman soldier’s loss of his leg in the war. However, Edward and Helena really did not know one another very well, even after a long engagement, and certainly did not love each other. Due to this misunderstanding, British society was quite harsh on poor Helena, whispering behind her back and freezing her out of friendships. As she recovers, Helena persuades her parents to let her travel to France and live with her eccentric aunt while she attends art school, art being her therapy and happiest pastime.
First in Antibes, and then in Paris, Helena thrives. She makes her first real friends in life at the school, learns much more about drawing and painting than she already knew, and meets a brash American newspaper man named Sam. Each of her three best friends and Sam have their own unique story involving social and personal problems. Moonlight Over Paris was a very enjoyable read as many of the minor characters were real figures of Paris in the 1920s. To aid in her storyline, author Jennifer Robson introduces Sara and Gerald Murphy as friends of Helena’s. Helena and Sara had met years earlier when Sara and her Wiborg sisters were on their grand tour of Europe. Sara and Helena cross paths during a discussion of modern art and cubism and remained acquaintances through the years. Helena meets up with the artful couple and their friends on the La Garoupe beach in Antibes, and again a few times in Paris. Robson understands how the Murphys brought so many artists of all types together in such a prolific period of their lives. Helena also meets some other Lost Generation members at one of Natalie Barney’s salons, as well as via a visit to Gertrude Stein’s. Of course, Helena was relegated to the kitchen with Hadley Hemingway and others under the direction of Alice Toklas, as were most of the wives and women guests at 27, rue de Fleurus.
Besides encountering many of the Lost Generation characters, Robson does a wonderful job of introducing her readers to the city of Paris. Helena’s aunt Agnes lives on the Ile-Saint-Louis, she and her friends rented a Left Bank art studio, and she visits such places as Notre Dame and Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company.
Helena’s story was somewhat predictable, but I can never get enough of the Lost Generation, Paris in the 1920s, and any art-related story combining the two. After reading this third novel of Robson’s, I surely want to check out her previous two books.
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