Book Review – The Paris Secret by Karen Swan

The Paris Secret by Karen Swan

Why must a seventy-year-old secret remain secret? This enigma ultimately drives this well-plotted novel centered on art restitution wrapped into the family drama of a French family finding itself in personal crisis seventy years after the end of World War II. Family and blood, but which is which? And enough triangles for a graduate geometry class! There is also a French saying that a great fortune begins with a great crime that is apropos to this novel.

Echoes everywhere. The novel is replete with contemporary echoes of modern scandal. Published in November 2017, the novel eerily foreshadows recent developments such as the sexual harassment deprivations of a worldwide celebrity like Harvey Weinstein and the excesses of the #MeToo movement with its presumed guilt by accusation. There are also echoes of the Bettancourt Affair in France and the story of the deconstruction of a wealthy French family and the recent Wildenstein art dealing scandals of grand families that did well out of World War II art dealing and are immensely wealthy and privileged to this day. So the novel is also biting social commentary on today’s world—up to the minute!

Social dissection. There is a dissection of the lives and social mores of today’s twenty somethings living at the top of the wealth pyramids that have been accumulated in recent decades set against the allure of classic good and bad girls chasing good and bad boys—the bad boys of course having the magic elixir to turn good girls’ heads and drop their pants. Enough status seeking and brand-name dropping to engage the most jaded of wealth fashionistas.

An intriguing look at fast-moving slices of modern life.

As part of my preparation for my next historical novel (Ambulanciere: The French in Italy 1944 – A Novel) which is about young women driving ambulances for the French army, I wanted to explore what women authors are writing in contemporary and historical fiction. This book review is part of this learning project to develop a wider understanding of gender points of view.

Takeaways for me as a historical novelist.

  • The dynamics of the allure of the bad boy to something inside young women, an appeal to the primal underneath the carefully constructed social façade that young women create for themselves. A duality of sensibilities in young women’s emotional lives.
  • What do the passions feel like, their physical expression, to women and their lingering memory, how do these passions imprint upon recollection. One senses a transport to somewhere outside the physical bed of physical love, a wild emotional expression of the primal. How to convey in words the presence of a strong non-verbal expression of emotion.
  • A dichotomy between socially accepted measurements used by young women and the more primal physical allures which creates intrigue, enchantment, and tension between the social acceptable and the physically desirable.
  • The centrality of family considerations when plotting life’s trajectories; individuals come from and out of families.


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