To Capture What We Cannot Keep
by Beatrice Colin
To Capture What We Cannot Keep jumped into my hands while perusing the new shelf at the library. I’m always drawn to anything French, so it’s little surprise I went for this book. Plus, it has a gorgeous cover! The book takes place in 1880’s Paris at the time when the Eiffel Tower is being built. It is a beautiful book filled with flowing, descriptive language that truly transports you to a different place and time. I was drawn in by the first chapter and was reminded of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. The love story, Cait, and the social issues discussed were reminiscent of Gaskell’s book (which happens to be a favorite of mine). Simply put, this book is beautiful and I loved it.
Cait is a young widow and has recently been charged with the job of chaperoning Alice and Jamie Arroll, a brother and sister from Scotland, on a European tour. They are ending in Paris and bump into Émile, one of the designers of the Eiffel Tower. Jamie, who is searching for career guidance is quick to establish a connection with Émile, while Cait makes quite a different connection. Before anything can evolve, the the Scots return home. Once there, Cait is proposed to, but it is not out of love, and there’s just something that doesn’t sit well even though it’s a respectable match. Alice and Jamie’s uncle (also their guardian) steps in and purposes a solution. Jamie wishes to apprentice under Émile and Cait could return to Paris with him and Alice and be their chaperone again. Without hesitation Cait agrees. Spoilers: once in Paris, Cait and Émile get swept into a passionate affair. At the same time Alice is searching for a husband, considering Émile only because it is expected of her. She is silly and naive and spends most of her time at fittings, or complaining. Jamie meanwhile is a horrible apprentice, spending his time at a brothel and gambling, losing thousands of francs. Émile steps in at one point and helps bail him out of debt in order to ease Cait’s distress (unbeknownst to Jamie Cait is aware of his debt). Émile has his own worries though. His mother is dying and would never approve of a match between him and Cait, but she desperately wants him to marry and have children. Cait isn’t worry-free either. Her past is shrouded in pain. Her husband was cruel and abused her to the point of harming her when she was pregnant; causing the baby to die. A procedure was done to save Cait, but left her unable to have any more children. While Cait wants love, she realizes she can’t be with Émile and tries to cut it off. He won’t accept it, to the point of walking out with Alice in order to be near Cait. Finally, everything comes to a head with scandal. Émile’s former amour, Gabrielle, wants to ruin his life, so sets up an elaborate ruse that gets Alice pregnant, making it look like it’s Émile’s. Émile is threatened to lose his job if he doesn’t marry Alice, and Cait will have nothing to do with him (in her attempt to do what’s socially acceptable). He can’t go against his heart though and refuses to marry Alice. Meanwhile, Alice miscarries and just wants to go home, so they do, leaving Émile without so much as a goodbye. Émile rides out the scandal and becomes a great success when the Eiffel Tower is completed and is spectacular. After the completion his mother passes away, leaving him no reason to stay in Paris. So after the hype of the tower settles, he travels to Scotland to find Cait. Once there he finds Alice, who has wed a noble, and Jamie who has finally matured, but Cait however, is gone, having left to become a missionary in Africa. Undeterred, he follows her there and surprises her. Cait is thrilled and they are happily, finally able to be together!
Summing it up: I highly recommend this beautiful book. In a lot of ways it is a masterpiece. I loved every bit!
All the best, Abbey