The Velvet Hours

Written by Alyson Richman
Review by Hilary Daninhirsch

An abandoned Paris apartment filled with treasures and art was the true-life inspiration for this mesmerizing novel. Marthe de Florian was a courtesan who amassed a life of riches and wealth. In 2010, her apartment, which had remained untouched for seven decades, was discovered, including the magnificent painting of her by artist Giovanni Boldini.  In The Velvet Hours, the author fills in the unknowns with this alluring novel.

As a young woman in the late 1800s, Marthe was a poor seamstress who gave birth to a son out of wedlock.  Later in life she met Charles, a wealthy member of Parisian society, who, though married, fell in love with her, enabling her to cast off her former life of poverty and hardship. It wasn’t until years later that her granddaughter, Solange Beaugiron, learned of her existence.  The two formed an initially shaky bond, but eventually Marthe opens up to Solange, feeding her bits and pieces of her past with each visit.

Solange’s own story also comes alive on the pages; she is a writer living in Nazi Germany, in love with a Jewish man, and their love story seems to be doomed before it can begin.  Soon Solange must make a life-changing decision, forcing her to leave behind everything she values.

As usual, Richman’s writing is velvety smooth, pulling the reader effortlessly into each of the women’s stories. Solange is the more appealing of the two main characters, as Marthe de Florian is somewhat self-absorbed. But as Marthe slowly reveals herself to her granddaughter, the reader can’t help but be drawn to the charismatic woman who chose to create her own opportunities rather than succumb to a life of poverty.  This multilayered story deserves a place on the bookshelf of any historical fiction fan.