Book Review | To Capture What We Cannot Keep

Author // Beatrice Colin
Publication Month // January 2017
Publisher // Allen & Unwin
Australian RRP // $29.99 AUD
Genre // Historical Fiction

Set against the construction of the Eiffel Tower, this novel charts the relationship between a young Scottish widow and a French engineer who, despite constraints of class and wealth, fall in love.
As the Eiffel Tower rises, a marvel of steel and air and light, the subject of extreme controversy and a symbol of the future, a young Scottish widow and the Tower’s engineer fall in love.

In February 1887, Caitriona Wallace and Emile Nouguier meet in a hot air balloon, floating high above Paris–a moment of pure possibility. But back on firm ground their vastly different social strata become clear. Cait is a widow who, because of her precarious financial situation, is forced to chaperone two wealthy Scottish charges. Emile is expected to take on the bourgeois stability of his family’s business and choose a suitable wife. With these constraints of class and wealth, Cait and Emile must decide what their love is worth.

Seamlessly weaving historical detail and vivid invention, Beatrice Colin evokes the revolutionary time in which Cait and Emile live–one of corsets and secret trysts, duels and bohemian independence, strict tradition and Impressionist experimentation. To Capture What We Cannot Keep, stylish, provocative and shimmering, raises probing questions about a woman’s place in that world, the overarching reach of class distinctions, and the sacrifices love requires of us all.


To Capture What We Cannot Keep is a historical fiction romance – drawing on a wide range of characters, and  beautifully romantic time period to draw readers in and keep them turning the pages.

The thing I enjoyed most about this novel was the atmosphere that Beatrice Colin created. I’m not someone easily enthralled by Europe (in any time period) and yet I was swept up into the time of the construction of the Eiffel Tower, the people who made it possible and the people who surround them. Some of the most interesting aspects, for me, where the descriptions of the actual construction of the Tower and the goals and hopes inherent. I also really enjoyed the descriptions of the clothing and fashion, being that it played such a huge role in this time period.

There were lovely nods to the artistic world in Paris; the Impressionists and the people who followed their work. While it didn’t play a huge role in the story itself it helped create a mood and  even hints of artists like Seurat set the scene.

As for the romance, Cait is a Scottish widow, chaperoning Alice (and her brother Jamie) in Paris. What begins as a chance encounter in the basket of a hot air balloon, turns into a tale of pursuit between Cait and engineer Emile Nouguier. As a main character, Cait seems to be at a loss, uncertain at times how to best help herself and her charges, which was a little disappointing given that she started off so well. Cait and Emile’s relationship is a difficult one, given the time, propriety and society’s expectations. Alice and Jamie, by turn are young, and in a new country, are somewhat reckless in their pursuits and unaware of the outcomes of their choices, which made for interesting and suspenseful reading.

Each chapter rotates between Cait’s perspective, then Emile’s; each perspective offers insight into both these characters, their hopes and dreams and frustrations, as well as the cultural differences that separate them.

Overall, To Capture What We Cannot Keep was a beautifully written story that I enjoyed. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, I think you would definitely enjoy this one.

(Thank you to Allen & Unwin for sending me a copy of this book for a fair and honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.)

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