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Book Review: Alyson Richman’s The Velvet Hours

My reading slump has finally abated! And I had a mini vacation. You might have seen on my Instagram that I was in Florida this past weekend. I went to visit my college best friend who lives outside of Orlando. During all the flying and travel time, I finally got to sit down and read this glorious novel. Because despite how long it took me to actually finish this book, it was a great read.

The velvet hours book review by Hayley Elizabeth
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I think this book took me a lot longer to read because it wasn’t action-packed. The novel itself wasn’t slow, but it was not necessarily fast-paced either. It’s two intertwining narratives about a young budding writer and her elegant grandmother. It wasn’t something to read quickly but rather, like Solange, to absorb one morsel at a time. In grand chapters, the secret life of Marthe de Florian unravels in sumptuous refinement.

The novel unfolds not unlike a play. There are only a few set characters and a few rooms where the story takes place. Even with such a pared down cast, the narrative walks you through the life of interesting, utterly human characters. The backdrop of both WWII and Belle Epoque Paris lends itself to a fascinating historical discovery for the reader. Each artifact of the story, each precious object, has its own story and its own meaning to the characters. Everything we see, the portrait, the Haggadah, the dresses, the furniture, the pearls, are not just objects, but history itself.

Alyson Richman’s prose is lyrical and just a refined as Solange’s grandmother. I hope to be as descriptive as her one day. Just reading her writing style helps inspire my own writing. I can perfectly picture every detail of the novel, especially the apartment which became a character all on its own. A pulsing museum of preserved luxury.

It made me kind of sad that Alyson Richman was able to weave before my eyes something so magical, so delicate, that you want to see it and experience it in real life. I want to stand in front of Boldini’s portrait of Mathe and see her fly off the canvas.

Upon reaching the end of the novel, you realize that the apartment and the painting are real! The apartment was untouched for seventy years, abandoned on the brink of the German’s occupation of France during WWII. The novel opens this way, with Solange locking up her grandmother’s apartment. But what Alyson Richman imagined of these two women makes the apartment all the more special. She imagined the women and choices behind the abandoned bourgeois treasure trove.

For any historical fiction lovers out there, I would definitely recommend this book. But a bit of advice, if I can say so, would be: do not look up Marthe de Florian’s apartment or portrait until after you finish reading the novel. It leaves it all the more enchanting to read the novel and picture for yourself what the apartment and what the portrait looks like. Then, of course, go ahead and search away. I did this and was pleasantly surprised by the actual painting. But I think it helped me to form my own picture of the characters before looking upon the real thing.

Because what Alyson Richman always does so well it creating beautiful, complex characters with both wants and flaws. I’m a huge fan of her novel The Lost Wife which I finished in a couple of days. Have you read any novels by Alyson Richman? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy Reading-

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