Book Reviews · Fiction · Romance

Review: To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin

To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin
Published January 3, 2017 by Allen & Unwin
RRP AUD $29.99

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.

Beatrice Colin has a way with words that makes you feel as if you’re in a different place in a different era. I loved how the book made me feel as though I had been transported to France, the French names and locations really helped capture the atmosphere, and contributed to the overall feel of the book.

To Capture What We Cannot Keep wasn’t a fast-paced story, and things played out quite slowly. It also didn’t really seem to have one main storyline, to me it seemed more like a series of tales over the timeframe of a few years. The historical accuracy seemed quite good, and it was obvious a lot of research was conducted prior to starting the novel. It was interesting to see how the various social aspects played a part in the book, like the differences in social classes, what was/wasn’t appropriate for a woman of the time and what they did about it, among others.

I loved the little bits of information about the building of the Eiffel Tower, and the emphasis on the artistic side of Paris drew me in, I probably would’ve been happier if the story focused more on the Eiffel Tower and the artistic world.

Although the characters were present throughout the chapters, I felt it was a little difficult to connect with them. I wasn’t really convinced about the love between Cait and Emile, because of the poor decisions in the beginning. It was difficult to see deeper into the characters’ heads, because I felt like I only had a basic grasp on the characters’ personalities. When a new development occurred or the plot twisted, I was quite surprised.

I didn’t really like Cait’s charges, I felt as though both Jamie and Alice were too spoiled for my liking and I didn’t agree with most of their choices. They seemed too unappreciative and shallow. Oddly enough, I felt as though I had a better grasp of the antagonist’s personality, she had an interesting backstory and was clever and manipulative.

The ending was OK. Just OK. I would’ve liked something to happen, but it kind of left things for the reader to guess how the story continues, but all in all, a lovely story recommended to those who enjoy slower paced books with gorgeous historical details.


I received a review copy from the publisher




Beatrice Colin is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Strathclyde University in Glasgow. A former arts and features journalist, she writes novels for adults and children, as well as short stories, radio plays for the BBC. She was a judge and mentor for the Scottish Boom Trust’s New Writers Award, and once reached number 144 in the charts with her band, April Showers.

She has been shortlisted for a British Book Award, a Saltire Award and a Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award and writes short stories, screen and radio plays and for children. To Capture What We Cannot Keep is her sixth novel.


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