To Capture What We Cannot Keep
Beatrice Colin’s new title To Capture What We Cannot Keep tells the story of the building of the Eiffel Tower and a love that almost wasn’t. Caitriona Wallace, a young widow, is forced to find employment after her husband’s estate dwindles, and it’s either work or the poor house. It’s Edinburgh, Scotland, 1895, and her choices for employment are slim. So like many gentlewomen, she becomes a chaperone for brother and sister Jamie and Alice Arrol, who are about to embark on their Grand Tour of the continent. The young people are social climbers, but naive–and, to Cait’s sensibilities, a little gauche in their overreaching. Jamie and Alice have any number of mishaps, spending more money than they should, eluding their chaperone when they shouldn’t, and sometimes falling in with the wrong company.
But the real story is Cait’s–and how she came to love one of the engineers working on the tower, Emile Nouguier. Although immediately attracted to him, Cait resists his attention even as she looks forward to their time together. Young Jamie sets his sights on Emile for his sister’s suitor (Alice is in France to find a husband, after all) and Cait serves as chaperone, all the while fighting her affection for Emile. You won’t need a spoiler alert, but this is fiction geared towards women readers–and most won’t be disappointed in the ending.
For this reader (who took German in high school, much to her grandmother’s consternation: “French is the language of literature, Laurie!”) I found the place names a bit overwhelming. And there were a lot considering the story was set around the building of the spectacular monument. I also realized I knew very little about the Eiffel Tower. But learn, I did. I had no idea the Tower had levels with restaurants and shops–I thought it was like a giant erector set project. I didn’t know that Eiffel’s company also had a hand in building the Panama Canal, until the French effort went bankrupt. Like I say, it’s a good book that will push a reader into a little research to find out more about the characters and events. And that’s just what I did.
To Capture What We Cannot Keep is written in the tradition of other historical novels which fictionalize the lives of famous people, so readers of The Aviator’s Wife and Circling the Sun will not be disappointed.