Desert Isle Keeper
The Women of Chateau Lafayette
Stephanie Dray’s talent for historical fiction is well spent on this handsome tale featuring three women who occupy the Chateau Lafayette, the ancestral home which once belong to the famed Marquis and his wife, Adrienne, which goes through many changes over the centuries.
Marthe Simone is an aspiring artist living in the early 1940s. Having missed out on a scholarship to study abroad, she has accepted a proposal of marriage from her childhood friend, Henri, and is now stuck in France, living and working at a school located at the Chateau Lafayette, which has been transformed into a place of refuge for orphans and – secretly – Jewish children seeking protection from the Nazis.
Marthe had been in denial about the notion of Hitler attacking France, but with the country in the thick of battle and Henri in a PoW camp, she can no longer allow herself the callow comfort of her illusions. Firmly dedicated to protecting the young children living at the chateau no matter what happens, she still yearns for one thing – to discover her roots, and hopefully meet her birth parents. And so Marthe, as she runs across evidence that she might have a living mother, must decide if she’s willing to risk her life to discover the truth – or if her mother falsified the records.
Adrienne, Marquise de Lafayette, was not quite the saint the baroness running the museum-slash-shelter believes. Actively questioning religion as a young girl (and questioning throughout the hard times she faces, even though she does find succor in faith eventually), she possesses a quick mind and falls in love with the marquis’ charm. Her upbringing does not prepare her for life as a revolutionary politician’s wife, but Adrienne adapts. They are married when she’s only fourteen, and while she must figure out her place at the court of Marie Antoinette, battle a king and a father who want her to repudiate her husband, deal with the death of one of their daughters, nasty rumors, her husband’s frequent and long absences, the confiscation of their home, and imprisonment under the Jacobian and pre-Napoleon governments. Their love endures through two wars and the threat of an appointment with Madame la Guillotine during the Revolution.
Former Broadway actress, frequent tabloid scandal subject and society matron Beatrice Astor Chanler stands at the cusp of World War I. Her marriage to her playboy husband, Willie – injured in what the public’s been told was a boxing accident – has begun to crumble. He openly has a mistress and has spent years gallivanting about the globe, leaving Beatrice alone with their two children and disapproving family. Waiting for Willie to recover from surgery, Beatrice soon becomes involved in forming the Lafayette Fund, which will support the war effort, defying America’s intent to remain neutral. Separating from her husband, she becomes involved with a handsome captain who is determined to deliver supplies to the allied side.
How Beatrice relates to Marthe, Adrienne to the both of them, and all three of them to the chateau, I shall leave the reader to enjoy. Indeed, the beautifully braided narrative is a feature and not a bug for The Women of the Chateau Lafayette, which wraps the reader up in its beautiful research and smart storylines.
My favorite among the women was definitely Beatrice, who was brave and vulnerable, fearless and tender. Marthe came off as too reckless and softhearted, but that fit her age and she grows beautifully, and Adrienne grows into a smart mother lion over time. Dray, as always, knows how to pace her heroines’ journeys
Only she could pull off such heavy research and do it so well, and thus the entire volume is beautifully cohesive and balanced. The book does not shy away from violence and bloodshed, and readers should be aware that there is much gore between the book’s covers. But that shouldn’t dissuade you from sinking in to it.
Each woman has a complicated romantic life, and I most liked Adrienne and Lafayette’s romance, which was fond and sweet even in the heat of battle.
Overall, The Women of the Chateau Lafayette is a must-read novel that will entertain and inspire.