Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Riviera House by Natasha Lester

Sometimes, if I think about things too much, it surprises me where the gaps in my reading are. For example, take Natasha Lester. This book is her ninth book (I think), she's a bestselling author, she is Australian, she writes historical fiction, and several of her books are set during WWII. Oh, and Paris!! This should make her an autobuy for me. And yet, this is the first book I have read by her.

"Art reminds us that there's a world opposite to the one we live in."

Eliane and her brother Luc both love art. He spends time fraternising with other artists whereas Eliane attends art school in the morning, works in the Louvre in the afternoon and then works in the family restaurant at night. As rumours of an imminent invasion of Paris by the approaching German army intensify, they both assist with the removal of many of the treasures of the Louvre. Many pieces were evacuated to secret locations to keep them from falling into the hands of the Germans.

Once the Germans do arrive in Paris, they may not be able to confiscate art owned by the State, but the art that is owned by influential and wealthy German families is fair game, with the most famous pieces being sent to Hitler, as long as they met his standards of decency, and other powerful leaders.

Thanks to Eliane's art knowledge, she is perfect to assist with the cataloguing the art. What the German officers in charge don't realise is that she understands German, and together with others performing similar work she is able to record the information about where these masterpieces have ended up. This was vital work which helps reunite owners and their art after the war. It is dangerous work. She has to maintain her detached manner so as to not draw attention to the dangerous work that she is involved in. One person who can betray her is her former love Xavier Laurent who is closely working with the Germans, much to Eliane's disgust.

In the modern storyline we meet Remy. She has retreated to the house that she inherited after suffering a terrible tragedy in her life. She just wants to be left alone in the glamourous house and to work on her lookbook for her successful vintage fashion business. Unfortunately, the family next door intrudes on her solitude. Luckily, Adam Henry-Jones is a fashion photographer, albeit one that Remy has no interest in working with, but fate has other plans.

When she finds a mysterious catalogue of art she is shocked to find that the painting that has always hung on her wall at home in Australia is included. Remy and Adam therefore need to find out who the artist is and what the connection is to the Riviera house and to Remy herself.

Whilst I enjoyed both parts of the book, it won't be that much of a shock to know that it is the WWII section of the book which I enjoyed more. Part of the reason for that is that I am not really that interested in fashion, unlike the author who has a background in fashion, and so if you describe a Pucci or a whoever dress or a 1940s bikini I am not that great at picturing it in my mind. 

There are so many great passages in this book about art and fashion, love and betrayal, sacrifice and more. I thought I would share one. I have left a little bit out so that there are no spoilers

"Do you remember, " Eliane said quietly, "when we stood at the bottom of the staircase at the Louvre and watched the Winged Victory of Samothrace carried downstairs?"

She pressed on, seizing the small advantage. "Do you remember that everyone held their breath in case she fell? Why did we do that? What does it matter if we lose a hunk of stone, or chip a piece of marble? What would Paris be without her Winged Victory, xxx? Think what Paris is now with only the grey of the Nazi uniforms, the brown of their boots, the never-ending shout of their Heil Hitlers. When Victory descended the staircase, we were scared but we were hopeful too - hopefuly that she would make it unscathed. If she'd broken, every one of us there would have cried."
And then

"Didn't Schiller say that Art is the daughter of freedom? When we stood together watching the Winged Victory we were all connnected by something beyond ourselves. Art is all we have when words fail us, when mankind fails us and when we each fail each other. If we don't save these works, we can't save ourselves."

At the beginning of this review I suggested that Natasha Lester should be an autobuy author for me, so I thought I would finish by asking the question that no one else is really asking....yes, I will be reading more from Natasha Lester. Maybe I can learn a bit about fashion from reading her books. Who knows.

Rating 4/5

The New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Secret weaves a lush and engrossing novel of World War II inspired by a true story and perfect for fans of Kate Quinn and Pam Jenoff.

Paris, 1939: The Nazis think √Čliane can't understand German. They’re wrong. They think she’s merely cataloging art in a Louvre museum and unaware they’re stealing national treasures for their private collections. They have no idea she’s carefully decoding their notes and smuggling information to the Resistance. But √Čliane is playing a dangerous game. Does she dare trust the man she once loved with her secrets, or will he only betray her once again? She has no way to know for certain . . . until a trip to a stunning home on the French Riviera brings a whole new level of peril.

Present Day: Wanting to forget the tragedy that has left her life in shambles, Remy Lang heads to a home she’s mysteriously inherited on the Riviera. While working on her vintage fashion business, she discovers a catalog of the artworks stolen during World War II and is shocked to see a painting that hung on her childhood bedroom wall. Who is her family, really? And does the Riviera house hold more secrets than Remy is ready to face?

Natasha Lester brilliantly explores the impossible choices ordinary people faced every day during extraordinary circumstances, weaving fact with fiction and celebrating women who push the boundaries of their time.


  1. This is not a book I'm going to read, but she's spot on about the importance of art!