After surviving the accident that took her mother's life, Claire Broussard has worked hard to escape her small Louisiana hometown. But these days she feels something is lacking. Abruptly leaving her lucrative job in Chicago, Claire returns home to care for her ailing grandmother. There, she unearths a beautiful piece of artwork that her great-grandfather sent home from Paris after World War II.
At her grandmother's urging, Claire travels to Paris to track down the century-old mask-making atelier where the object, known only as "L'Inconnue" - or The Unknown Woman - was created. Under the watchful eye of a surly mask-maker, Claire discovers a cache of letters that offers insight into the life of the Belle Epoque woman immortalized in the work of art. As Claire explores the unknown woman's tragic fate, she begins to unravel deeply buried secrets in her own life.
Besides being a very well-written book (I'm happy to say that I seem to be making a habit of reading these kinds of books lately), it's also a very interesting story. It goes back and forth between the present (Claire) and the late 1890's (Sabine, AKA L'Inconnue). But what makes it unique is that Claire and the present-day people don't know Sabine's story. They don't know who she is and what is happening with her. Only the reader gets that information. How really cool is that? All the current people know is that the woman known as "L'Inconnue drowned. And they learn this through notes that were packed in the box that her great-grandfather sent as well as the letters that she finds in the atelier. I loved this about the book.
What else did I love about this book, you ask? Well, let me list a few things:
1. The author's ability to give me chills and to make me cry and speak out loud. On one occasion I even did a bit of gulping. Yep. and another time I said "Is it possible?" - twice! And let's not forget my "whoa" on page 319.
2. A lot of references to Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel, his muse. And why did that resonate? Because Claudel was a central character in Betsy Franco's novel, Naked (I'm still trying to get her to be an RBC author), a book that sits on my rec table.
3. Learning stuff. In this case, I found out what Kintsugi is. Look it up. It's worth your time.
4. THE ENDING! THE ENDING! THE ENDING! Have I made myself clear what I thought about the ending?
This is a very very good read, with some real twists.