To Capture What We Cannot Keep
Caitriona Wallace could hardly have found a more exciting time to be in Paris. The controversial Eiffel Tower is in the middle stages of its construction, on a tight timeline in order to be finished for the 1889 World’s Fair. The air is electric with excitement. If only the circumstances were different for the woman from Glasgow. A widow, Cait has had to be careful about her finances since her husband died. Even so, her funds are running out fast and she needs a way to survive, so she answers an ad for a chaperone. Her job: To escort Jamie and Alice Arrol on a Grand Tour of Europe, last stop Paris.
What she didn’t bargain on was falling for a Frenchman far above her class. What may be more troublesome than the class disparities between Cait and tower designer Emile Nouguier is Cait’s chosen occupation. You see, her charge, Alice Arrol, is of marriageable age; everything about the young woman is perfect for Emile. So, despite what her heart says, Cait must deny her desires.
"TO CAPTURE WHAT WE CANNOT KEEP takes readers to...marvelous places, carries them through the lead-up to the World’s Fair...and embroils them in the forbidden romance between a destitute Scottish woman and a socially superior Frenchman."
Think star-crossed lovers. Naturally, that brings to mind the most famous of all star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet. Emile and Cait are not Romeo and Juliet, but they live their own romantic tragedy. Added to their challenges is the fact that it’s late 19th century, when proper protocols are very much in place. An unmarried woman merely sitting in a carriage with a man alone will set tongues wagging --- even in Paris, a city with plenty of debauchery and rule-breaking. Cait must constantly be aware of the image she projects, if not for herself, at least for her charges, Jamie and Alice.
Ah, Cait’s charges. Both need a chaperone, but both are adults and above Cait in almost every way, so Cait has a devil of a time keeping the two siblings safe from their own missteps. After their Grand Tour has ended, and after the weeks in Paris --- during which time they all fall in love --- they return to Scotland. Cait pushes aside all thoughts of the mysterious Emile. She needs to look to her own future. But then something happens and the opportunity to return to Paris presents itself. Young Jamie has a dream of working on the Eiffel Tower, a dream that could take him and his sister once again to the Continent. Maybe this time around, Alice will land a marriage proposal.
Jamie’s connection with the Tower work --- coupled with the presence of Emile Nouguier in their lives --- keeps the construction and design in the forefront of the story. The Eiffel Tower’s frivolous beauty (not really agreed on by everyone in Paris), along with its function and flair, entwines itself into the basic fiber of this lovely romance. And because of the era in which this Scottish trio is living and the circles in which they are allowed to move, famous artists like Seurat make an appearance (not to mention Gustave Eiffel himself), and numerous up-and-coming painters like Renoir and Degas have at least a cameo shot. It is a wonderful time to wander the streets of Montmartre, stroll the Champs-Élysées, saunter through the Louvre, or languish on a boat floating down the river Seine.
TO CAPTURE WHAT WE CANNOT KEEP takes readers to all of those marvelous places, carries them through the lead-up to the World’s Fair, full of fascinating history, and embroils them in the forbidden romance between a destitute Scottish woman and a socially superior Frenchman. How can these lovers find happiness in the midst of all that is right and proper? Maybe they can’t. But maybe, just maybe, love will find a way.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on December 9, 2016