Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Lost Carousel of Provence, by Juliet Blackwell

Berkley Publishing Group, ISBN 9780451490636, September 2018

Orphan Cady Drake grew up in Oakland, in foster care and group homes, until, finally, stealing something from an antiques shop, or trying to, throws her into the path of Maxine, the antique store owner. Now Maxine has died, Cady has lost her unborn, accidental baby to a miscarriage, and even finding new photography assignments seems too much.

Her only other friend, Olivia, is unwilling to leave it at that, though. Cady has an antique carousel rabbit Maxine gave her, believed to have been made by French sculptor and carousel maker, Gustave Bayol. Cady is fascinated by its past and by carousels, and suggests she go to France to photograph French carousels for a book on the history of carousels in France. And as it happens, she's already pitched the idea to a publisher her magazine works with. It's approved; Cady just has to agree.

Cady is not initially enthusiastic, in part because she finds coping with people challenging in the best of circumstances, never mind in a foreign country where she knows no one, and her mastery of the language is imperfect. But she has no other plans, and has to do something...

Her travels in France lead her to an architect whose family, early in the 20th century, bought their own carousel from Gustave Bayol. Then World War I, the aftermath of the war, the Depression, and World War II, seriously damaged the family's fortunes. Chateau Clement is in serious disrepair, occupied only by one old man, Fabrice Clement, grandson of the couple who bought the carousel. There's a huge rift between Fabrice and the descendants of his great-uncle, who think his grandmother was unfaithful, his father was illegitimate, and that they should have inherited the chateau.

And there's also the question of what happened to the carousel, which no one has seen in a very long time.

Jean-Paul, the architect, is a descendant of the other side of the family. He'd like to mend the rift, but Fabrice is distrustful. Cady, more than anyone in the Clement clan, understands Fabrice's distrust--and unexpectedly connects with him.

But there are several family mysteries, the mystery of Cady's own carousel rabbit, a troubled teenager, and the tricky shoals of damaged people trying to connect. I like Cady, I like Jean-Paul, I like Fabrice. None of them are easy people.

And interwoven with all this, we get glimpses of Cady's troubled childhood, and the life of a young woman from Bretagne, who, in 1900, defies custom to travel to the town of Angers on her own to seek to use the carving skills her father taught her to become an apprentice in Bayol's carousel factory. The stories all matter, and they are all compelling. People connect despite differences.

I really enjoyed this book. Recommended.

I received a free electronic galley from the publisher via NetGalley.