“The truth is sometimes the very opposite from what you expect it to be.”Pam Jenoff, The Lost girls of Paris
The Lost Girls of Paris follows three girls: Grace, Eleanor, and Marie through their experiences with a secret operation. Grace Healey, hiding out from her family in Manhattan, discovers a mysterious suitcase in the middle of Grand Central station. When she opens it, she finds pictures of several girls and is determined to find out who they are. Eleanor Trigg started out as a secretary but soon finds herself climbing the ranks of SOE (Special Operations Executive) to start a troop of female secret agents that are being sent to Paris. Marie Roux is one of the secret agents that Eleanor recruits and while her ability to speak French is what gets her noticed, ultimately, she finds that proving herself a worthy secret agent may require much more than she initially thought.
I was really excited about this book when I first picked it up because I thought that this was a story that isn’t told. I don’t want to say that this story disappointed me, but I have to admit that I wasn’t completely sold by this book. I think overall, the story was really beautifully researched and you could tell that Jenoff put a lot of effort into the historical contexts behind this story, but her writing style and character development didn’t sit well with me.
To start with the good about this book, I have to say that it was a truly thrilling ride. We got to know our two of our three main characters really well and the two were portrayed as very strong women. It’s easy to feel like you’re reading a strong feminist book when you’re reading the chapters told from Marie and Eleanor’s point of views. I think that the intricacy of the spy circuits in France are really interesting and Jenoff does a good job of establishing how the circuit is set up and who is in charge. I think that the plot twist and the red herring incorporated in this story was relatively successful but there were moments when it was a little too obvious that the red herring character had nothing to do with it. In terms of the research, it was really obvious that there was so much undercover research that went into the writing of this book and that definitely makes this a worthwhile read. I truly enjoyed the author’s note at the end of the book because it talked about the real historical context behind this book. If you do read this, I highly recommend taking the time to learn about the actual history behind this story because it is definitely fictionalized.
There were three major issues that I had with this book as a whole. Starting with the smallest issue: syntax. I can understand that sometimes when writing there might be a sentence that sounds good in the writer’s head but doesn’t translate well to paper. A confusing line or two in the story doesn’t really take away from the quality of the writing but there were too many confusing lines in this book. There were several scenes that weren’t extremely important to the story where I found myself having to re-read a line because the wording was just off. The issue with that was I would forget the meaning of the line within a few pages because it wasn’t relevant to the story. Why did I spend so much time trying to understand these seemingly irrelevant lines? In a story that’s attempting to pass itself off as a mystery, every line is important. I think that syntax is important in a novel in general but if the reader has to spend too much effort re-reading confusing lines then they’re not putting effort into appreciating the mystery.
The second major issue is that Grace and a couple other characters were developed poorly. Marie and Eleanor were portrayed as very strong and independent women and that is supposed to translate over to Grace because of her life circumstances. Instead, Grace’s character and this notion of her being a strong woman had a huge disconnect. She was meant to have a stubborn will but was way too dependent on the men in her life. If the story was truly meant to be about three strong women (which I largely suspect it was but I could be wrong) I think that the incorporation of Grace was a mistake. Her point of view only served a strong purpose at the end but I think that there was a better way to tie everything together or to make her character stronger. While there were several secondary characters in the novel who were meant to be important, they weren’t developed in a way that the reader cared about them. We got no information about their backstories and any information we were given didn’t serve to further the plot, it only created another storyline that the reader had to keep straight and didn’t build up to the conclusion.
The final issue is that the development of relationships in the novel was completely unbelievable. While there were several disconnects in terms of actual character development, there were even more in terms of building believable relationships. While Marie is training to go into the field, she is often told that she can’t trust anyone and that she will be all alone. When she is actually thrust into the field, she is surrounded by a whole team. While the team was necessary to provide a romantic interest for Marie, there was no building of trust between Marie and the team. How could Marie trust this team to protect her if they don’t truly know anything about her? We see them bonding for one short scene to introduce Julian. Julian and Marie’s relationship was extremely obvious but extremely rushed. Anything we learn about Julian comes from his cousin (who kind of conveniently disappears at the end and even if Jenoff makes it clear what happens to him, the fact that I can’t remember says a lot for how much I cared about him) and only serves to inflate Marie’s interest in him. But, when his fate is determined, I found that there was a disconnect and that his fate is pretty much predicted from the beginning especially when it’s intertwined with the red herring.
Overall, this book was interesting. The issues I had with this novel are more technical than they are plot related. I think that many plot holes/loose ends could’ve been easily fixed with a little more care in the technical aspects such as syntax and believability. While this was primarily a fictional book, it was based on real events and that sense of realism should’ve shown through a little more. But, it wasn’t such a terrible read that I was bored enough to abandon the book. It’s entertaining enough and has definitely piqued my interest in the subject, but I couldn’t confidently say that this is the best fictionalization of this subject.