The Velvet Hours
As Paris teeters on the edge of the German occupation, a young French woman closes the door to her late grandmother’s treasure-filled apartment, unsure if she’ll ever return.
An elusive courtesan, Marthe de Florian cultivated a life of art and beauty, casting out all recollections of her impoverished childhood in the dark alleys of Montmartre. With Europe on the brink of war, she shares her story with her granddaughter Solange Beaugiron, using her prized possessions to reveal her innermost secrets. Most striking of all are a beautiful string of pearls and a magnificent portrait of Marthe painted by the Italian artist Giovanni Boldini. As Marthe’s tale unfolds, like velvet itself, stitched with its own shadow and light, it helps to guide Solange on her own path.
Inspired by the true account of an abandoned Parisian apartment, Alyson Richman brings to life Solange, the young woman forced to leave her fabled grandmother’s legacy behind to save all that she loved.
Praise For The Velvet Hours…
Named one of the Best Fall Books of 2016 by PopSugar
“Alyson Richman's writing sings in her evocative new novel set in Paris at the dawn of World War II. The Velvet Hours is a beautiful and compelling portrait of two women facing their unknown past and an unimaginable future as their world begins to crumble.”—Kristin Hannah, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Nightingale
“Richman deftly weaves fact and fiction to create…a carefully wrought story of love, of what the heart chooses to give up, and what it chooses to keep. Highly recommended to readers who enjoyed Kristen Hannah's The Nightingale.”—New York Times bestselling author Karen White
“Richman fills her novel with vibrant details, much as Marthe decorated her apartment: always with care, craft, and a sharp eye.”—Publisher's Weekly (Starred Review)
“The Velvet Hours is a love letter to the stories we tell and the stories we keep. It poses the idea that even the most well-intentioned life can hold guilt, and even the most aimless can find absolution. Imaginative, rich, and emotionally satisfying, The Velvet Hours is a treasure.”—Jewish Book Council
“Richman's background in art is evident on every page of this opulent story of passion and transformation.”—NY Journal of Books
“A book as full of treasures as the Paris apartment that inspired it....A masterful mix of the glamour of the Belle Epoque and the shadows of impending war.”—New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig
“Richman’s stunningly rich prose artfully conjures up an age of high culture, art, literature and extravagant fashions, interlacing the decadent life of a nineteenth century courtesan with the more Spartan, unsettled months before France’s humiliation at the hands of the Nazis. The intricate details of the clothing, social mores and interior decoration of the time have been meticulously researched, the meeting of different cultures is convincingly and lovingly depicted, as is the difference between the two women, the lives they embrace and the men they love.”—The Catholic World Report
"Richman develops an enthralling saga of two women—alternating between the late 1800's and 1930's—based on an actual Paris apartment. The lush atmosphere of the Belle Epoque and the stress of the coming war, the wonderful relationship between the women along with the fascinating historical backdrops draw readers into a lavish, beautifully written novel. It's nearly impossible to put down and so moving that fans of The Nightingale and WW II novels will be enthralled and delighted."—RT Book Reviews
Praise for the novels of Alyson Richman
“A truly beautiful, heartfelt story… I couldn’t put it down once I started it. Ms. Richman is a very special talent.”—Kristin Hannah, New York Times bestselling author
“Staggeringly evocative, romantic, heartrending, sensual, and beautifully written.”—John Lescroart, New York Times bestselling author
“Tragedy and hope, love and loss, and the strength to endure are examined through Richman’s graceful writing and powerful characters.”—Booklist
“If you love graceful, mellifluous writing, you should read this book.”—Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author
“Grabs your heart and doesn’t let go…Moving, unforgettable and so expertly told.”—Sarah Jio, New York Times bestselling author
”Lyrical and rich…filled with beauty and tragedy, romance and heartbreak.”—Jillian Cantor, author of Margot
Berkley, 9780425266267, 384pp.
Publication Date: September 6, 2016
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. The author references shadow and light in the novel. Discuss the aspects of shadow and light in Marthe de Florian’s life, as well as in Solange’s. Do you think both women come to terms with their pasts at the end of their lives? Or is there an element of regret?
2. Charles gives Marthe the gift of the pearls partly as a gift of beauty, but also as a gift of financial security. Do you think Marthe does the right thing when she sells the necklace?
3. Marthe is not educated, yet she is immensely curious. How would you describe her self-education? Do you think her material possessions reflect her pursuit of knowledge?
4. Marthe belongs to the demimondaine, the world of secret pleasure. What do you think of Marthe being a kept woman? Do you think it enabled her to be more liberated than married women in French society, or was her life more restricted?
5. Discuss the essential role the Barcelona Haggadah played in the novel. For example, it enables Solange to learn more about her ancestry, it brings her into the Armels’ bookstore and also, in the end, enables Solange and the Armels to gain safe passage. What else did the Haggadah bring to the overall story?
6. Above all, Marthe loves art and beauty. The author describes the sumptuous furnishings in the apartment, the butterfly- and bird-painted china, the fresh flowers, the rose-scented baths, and the gold-embossed stationery. Do we have these rituals of beauty in the twenty-first century? Are there any of these lost rituals that you’d like to bring back into your daily life?
7. Solange and Marthe forge an unlikely friendship. What do you think they each teach each other through their friendship?
8. Solange says: “What I realized at that moment was that my grandmother believed that as long as the apartment remained the way she had created it—her portrait above the mantel, her collection of porcelains, and the other pieces of art she had hand selected—she was convinced her memory would also not be extinguished.” Do you think that heirlooms help us maintain a memory of our loved ones, or are our shared stories what help connect us to the past? Are the two linked? How? Is one more important than the other? Do you own something that is linked with a story, and does it connect you with the past?