Book Review for “The Women of Chateau Lafayette” by Stephanie Dray.
Summary: 1774. Gently-bred noblewoman Adrienne Lafayette becomes her husband’s political partner in the fight for American independence. But when their idealism sparks revolution in France, and the guillotine threatens everything she holds dear, Adrienne must choose to renounce the complicated man she loves, or risk her life for a legacy that will inspire generations to come. 1914. Glittering New York socialite Beatrice Astor Chanler is a force of nature, daunted by nothing–not her humble beginnings, her crumbling marriage, or the outbreak of war. But after witnessing the devastation in France and delivering war-relief over dangerous seas, Beatrice takes on the challenge of a lifetime: convincing America to fight for what’s right. 1940. French school-teacher and aspiring artist Marthe Simone has an orphan’s self-reliance and wants nothing to do with war. But as the realities of Nazi occupation transform her life in the isolated castle where she came of age, she makes a discovery that calls into question who she is, and more importantly, who she is willing to become.
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical, France, America, Other Categories: Novel, Biographical, American War of Independence, French Revolution, World War I, World War II.
First of all, the premise behind this book is really excellent. It shows the power of women during times of adversity and war, and highlights the very long alliances between the United States and France. The book uses the Lafayette family as the cornerstone, with a focus on his wife. This eventually leads to a charitable foundation in Chavaniac, Lafayette’s birthplace, during the Great War, which continues even throughout WWII. That means we span from the 1770s to the mid-1940s; that’s the type of time-frame of which sagas are made. The question is, did these three stories make for an engrossing read, or did Dray bite off more than she could chew?
Okay, so while there’s a great deal to praise about this book, I’m thinking my answer to that question is partially the latter. See, I had a hard time reading it, and I’m not totally sure why. Now, it may just be that lately I’ve been reading a whole lot of historical fiction around both World Wars, and it may just be that I’m getting a bit tired of multiple timelines, or a little of both. There was also the problem I had with the three first-person narratives. While I didn’t mind the ones from the two world wars, I had a bit of a problem with Adrienne Lafayette narrating her own story. This is because I’ve never been comfortable with a character talking about their own lives when we know that it will somehow include at least a prelude to their own death. That’s why I seriously think that her story should have been told in third person. Despite this, I should mention that I must give high praise of Dray for giving each of these three women such unique voices; Dray obviously loved these three women, and that comes through in this book.
I also found that my reading went relatively slowly, and took me longer to finish than usual. It isn’t immensely long, although it is longer than average for me (Goodreads says it is 576 pages, which is shorter than Quinn’s “The Rose Code”). I can certainly handle three very distinctive, yet connected timelines, and I don’t believe that any of them were unnecessary. Mind you, there were times when I felt that the 1700s parts were the weakest of the three. This is because they encompass not only the part played by Lafayette and France in the American War of Independence, but also the extremely complicated French Revolution (or should I say revolutions, because of all the various fractions vying for power, and the many changes in the governing of that the country during that time). Thankfully, by the time I was getting close to the end, the pace of this book picked up a bit, so I’m glad I decided to see it through and not put it aside. (I admit that I also found a few anachronisms in this book that annoyed me, but not ones so glaring that made me give up on this book.)
I also got the feeling that this really should have been three separate novels, or at least one and a sequel, because I felt that Dray was holding back in places. When reading the authors notes, I realized this was actually true, and I’m a bit sorry about that. However, it isn’t like we didn’t get three, well-rounded characters, because we did. Plus, we got this chateau as an extra character, and when I looked it up on line, I was surprised at how accurate what I’d pictured resembled what’s really there today. This means that Dray’s talent for describing the place was spot on, and brava to her for that as well. As I said, there’s a good deal to praise about this novel, but it also had some problems. So, while I’ll still recommend this book, I think I’m going to give it three and a half stars out of five, because I liked it in general, but couldn’t ignore its faults.
Berkley Publishing Group will release “The Women of Chateau Lafayette” by Stephanie Dray on March 30, 2021. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.