A Paris Apartment, written by Michelle Gable, is based off of a real-life event: an apartment in Paris that had been shut for decades, with rooms full of treasures. Although the apartment had been abandoned, the rent had been paid every month, so the items were left as a sort of time capsule. You can read more about it here, including an image of Giovanni Boldini’s portrait of Marthe de Florian that plays a prominent role in the book.
The excitement of the discovery does not translate as well to fiction. April Vogt is an American furniture expert for an auction house who is called to Paris to estimate the value of the apartment’s contents. April jumps at the chance to run away from her crumbling marriage and avoid having a much needed conversation with her husband. Once she arrives in Paris, she largely ignores her job after she discovers the diaries of the apartment’s previous occupant, Marthe de Florian. The lawyer managing the estate takes an instant, very strange liking to April and allows her to read the diaries before they are given to his client.
Those around her tell April again and again how much they appreciate her help, but she doesn’t do the job she was called to do. For example, her assistant sends her a file to review and April promises to do it before the close of business in the United States. Rather than do her job, she reads the diary and gets drunk off of cheese and wine and falls asleep, missing the start of her next workday. Instead of rushing off to the apartment once she wakes up, she texts her Parisian counterpart to say that she is working from home (how? All of her work is in the apartment) and proceeds to waste more time reading the diary. Once she finally gets to the apartment, she spends all of her time complaining that no one consulted her when planning the auction and then sulks off to read the diary again. This happens early in the book and did not help to make me sympathetic to the heroine.
Admittedly, Marthe’s diaries are well-written, much more so than the detached third-person account April receives. Marthe has a glittering way of describing the world around her. She does not mince words. She is tough and funny and just a bit raunchy. Sometimes too raunchy for my taste, but that does not change the fact that Marthe was the most compelling character with the most compelling story. By comparison, April seems dreadfully dull, and she suffers from the contrast with the writer of the diaries.
I was personally dissatisfied with the ending. The way April’s marriage problems were resolved seemed too easy. I did not mind April’s avoidance of the problems she had with her husband. How many of us face issues in our lives in an honest and straightforward way? I thought it was one of the more realistic aspects of the book, and it was disappointing that it did not receive a more interesting conclusion. This wasn’t a terrible book, but I felt like the portions telling April’s story were missing something. In all, I would recommend reading articles about the actual apartment and taking a look at Marthe de Florian as painted by Boldini.