Paris, 1888. Sixteen-year-old Maude is in search of a better life. But Paris can be a cruel city, and economic necessity drives her to answer an advertisement from the Durandeau Agency. They are looking for repoussoirs, plain girls for hire to wealthy clients as foils to enhance their beauty. The Countess Dubern is determined that the handsome and wealthy Duke d’Avaray proposes to her lovely daughter Isabelle and Maude’s plainness will be a useful tool. It doesn’t help that Maude finds him attractive herself. Then she meets Paul Villette, a struggling composer, and they strike up a friendship. Paul, at least, sees her as she really is.
But Isabelle is more than the spoilt brat Maude first thought her; the last thing she wants is to be sold by her grasping mother to the highest bidder. Her dream is to get herself an education at the Sorbonne. More and more, Maude feels torn between her friendship with Isabelle and her duty to the countess. It’s only a matter of time before disaster strikes.
I really enjoyed this. Maude is a terrific heroine, an ordinary girl thrown into an extraordinary position. She must learn who she is, what she wants, and how far she will go to get it. Will she betray her friendship with Isabelle? Will she be able to pursue her growing interest in that new and exciting medium, photography?
I liked the way the repoussoir girls support each other though the humiliations of their job as the ugly foil to some spoilt beauty. I also enjoyed the evocation of the Belle Époque, Paris in the 1880s, with its louche night clubs, the building of the Eiffel Tower (hated by many Parisians), and all the glitter of the aristocratic Season. A fun read, just right to snuggle down with.