I am a voracious reader who loves to bake and enjoys books from almost every category of fiction, as well as biographies and memoirs.
An Unexpected Discovery
A Paris Apartment is a historical fiction novel about April Vogt, an auction house furniture specialist who has been called to Paris to look at a furniture-stuffed-apartment that hasn’t been entered since 1940. Upon discovering the journals of the apartment’s former occupant, April becomes enthralled with the exploits of the demimondaine, Marthe de Florian. In some ways, their lives parallel each other, as both women struggle to live with the disappointments of their families’ pasts, to still become the great, powerful women they desire to be. April, a woman whose marriage is barely existent is tempted by a cunning Frenchman who is fascinated with April’s obsession with Marthe and making sure she is admired for who she really was, and the painting she inspired. Told with a fresh, lightly humorous perspective, A Paris Apartment is a bright, enlightening trip into the past of Paris’s often dark indulgences at the turning of the 20th century.
1. Her own furniture museum was April Vogt’s first failed adult dream. What tremendous impact did this have on her and the rest of her life? Do you have a similar one? What impact can failed adult dreams have on people?
2. What did you think about the “caste system” of prostitutes during Madame de Florian’s time, including demimondaines, filles soumises, les grisettes, and les lorettes? Are there any such defined societal lines in existence today, among other professions even?
3. April describes herself as a put-stuff-away-first kind of person when arriving at a hotel. How does this typically match her personality, and even more so that she makes an exception for cheese, wine, and Mathe’s journals? What would you have chosen? What do you usually do upon arriving at a hotel room?
4. When Marthe went looking for a job at the Folies Bergere, she noticed something that Emilie did, that by some, could be considered wise advice upon procuring a new job: “Do not give them a chance to say no.” Is this usually wise advice? Why did it work for Marthe?
5. April considered it funny that there seemed to be a centuries-long obsession with celebrities, such as Marthe’s with Jeanne Hugo Daudet. What makes people so fascinated with celebrities’ lives?
6. Luc patiently listened to all of April’s lecture on furniture found in the apartment. Later, she said that “Someone was listening. Sometimes that’s all a person needed.” Why is this so vital a thing for April at this point in her life (especially considering the way things stood with Troy)? Is it important to all people? Why?
7. In order to begin to rectify her relationship with Troy, April realized she needed to “separate the person she fell in love with from the person she wanted him to be; both impossible standards.” Why did she feel this way at the time? How did it later turn out to be true? Are all people guilty of doing this in relationships, to some extent, either with positive or negative expectations?
8. Luc is a difficult person to understand, which only makes April want to understand him even more. What is it about complex characters that attract us even more? How does this type of personality attract April especially?
9. What did you think of the rule about the four-five? Does it seem unreasonable that that was the only time women were allowed to visit men on their own? Or that assumptions were often made (even if unmentioned) about women who did visit during these hours?
10. To April, the painting is possibly the most important part of the collection. Art predates money. It exists still on cave walls. Art stays. Have you ever thought about the importance of art? Is this perhaps one of the main reasons April chose Art History as her college major? Do you have any favorite art or artists?
11. Luc likes to live in the present, but April states that “Everyone cares about the past.” Why is the past so important to her, but not to Luc? Is it to you? Why?
12. Giovanni Boldini admits that he adores Marthe, but claims he is not rich enough to love her. What did he mean by that? Did it take a great deal more financially to love someone at that time, rather than to merely have a love affair without commitments? How is this different from our society today?
13. Marthe hated Jeanne Hugo because she had everything (especially everything that Marthe wanted and did NOT have). But Jeanne replied that “Everything is not everything.” Instead of hating Jeanne their whole lives, should Marthe have looked more deeply into this statement and pitied Jeanne? How might have their lives been different if Marthe had tried to see things from Jeanne’s perspective?
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14. Marthe was convinced that even too much was never enough. How does this consumerist nature of hers make sense, considering her poor upbringing? Did such desires lead to some of the more negative events and outcomes in her life?
15. Robert de Montesquiou believed that it was better to be hated than unknown. Marthe stated that she disagreed and believed it more important to maintain a semblance of respectability and a solid reputation. What actions did she take that contradict this philosophy?
16. After being part of a relationship with Le Comte and even though fabulously wealthy compared to when she started in Paris, Marthe admits that “it’s odd how something you’ve dreamed of half your life looks different once you get inside.” What differences do you think she was referring to, that she had been ignorant of before? How could this philosophy also have been applied to Jeanne Daudet? Has this ever been true for you?
17. Marthe thought the most important thing for a woman to have was money, and options were the second. April lived her life in the past, in fear that one day the other shoe would drop. As a result, she married someone who could take care of her, whether or not she continued to love him. What are some of the similarities and differences between each woman’s life philosophies? Were the similarities in their lives what drew them together? What were these things?
18. Do you believe April truly never wanted her own children or was afraid to want them? Was this more to do with her and Troy, or her and her mother? What traits did she and her mother share? How do you think things finally wound up for her and Troy-was it a love story like her parents’?
19. How did you react to Marthe’s divulsion that Victor Hugo was her father? Did this better explain her deep hatred for Jeanne Hugo?
20. Whitening agents were finally what killed Marthe, and in some respects, her own vanity led to her madness. The same behavior is common in Alzheimer’s patients in the late stages. How did this make April and Madame Vannier similar? Or April’s upbringing and Lisette’s?
April loves her French cheeses, and the sweet little pastries, chouquettes. To combine these, I created a marvelous recipe for Parmesan Goat Cheese Popovers, which are much less scary and complicated to make than most French pastries, but they taste just as yummy and French, especially when you eat them still warm from the oven. All you need to do is make sure you have a popover pan and good French goat cheese. I’m sure April would devour these, along with a glass of wine and Marthe’s journals.
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp dried rosemary, plus an extra tsp. to sprinkle the top
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus an extra tsp.to sprinkle the tops
- 3/4 tsp black pepper
- 1 ½ cups real shredded Parmesan cheese
- 2 cups 2% reduced fat milk, (you can use 1% or whole, but not skim milk)
- 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
- 10.5 oz French goat cheese, it's ok to splurge on this ingredient, it will be worth it!
- pure olive oil spray
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place popover pan in oven to get warm while you prepare the ingredients. Spray inside of popover pan with 100% pure olive oil. Make sure to read the label before you buy. Whisk together flour, rosemary, salt, pepper, parmesan cheese in a small bowl. Whisk together eggs, milk, and cream in a larger bowl. Add dry ingredients to wet and whisk together.
- Pour batter into popover pans and fill ⅓ of each cup. Cut 1.5 oz chunks from the block of goat cheese. Drop one chunk of goat cheese into each popover pan, and cover with more batter until each is 3/4 full.
- Bake for 20-22 minutes and DO NOT open the oven until at least 18 minutes have passed. Check the popovers after 18-20 minutes using your oven light. If they are still a pale yellow, keep baking until tops are golden brown. Mine took 20 minutes to bake. Sprinkle the tops with the extra rosemary and kosher salt and enjoy!
- I had enough batter to make one full pan of 6 popovers, plus four more. When you make the second batch, fill the empty cups 1/3 full with water to prevent them from burning in the oven. Be VERY careful when you remove them to not splash the water on yourself.
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In The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova, a famous painting/painter play a large part in the unraveling narrative of the story. It also deals with the psychological connections between artist and art, and a psychiatrist who wants to know the truth of the past for himself.
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield’s main character is learning the true history of a famous novelist, as finally told for the first time upon her deathbed. With dark, brilliant mysteries that continue until the novel’s final pages, Vida de Winter tells a young journalist about how she really grew up in a small English town, and were the inspiration for all her lifetime’s worth of tales came from.
My Little French Whore by Gene Wilder shares the common thread of telling about a beautiful young courtesan in early 20th century France. Told from the perspective of the man who loved her, during the Second World War, this short novel contains a sensitive gentility and understanding usually found in stories by female authors.
The Lost Castle is a historical novel set in France near the Sleeping Beauty castle, a place that connects three women across various classes, and who've suffered through wars and rebellions, all connected by a fox brooch and a beautiful vineyard.
© 2014 Amanda Lorenzo