The Post Mistress of Paris by Meg Waite Clayton Reviewed by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

The Postmistress of Paris by Meg Waite Clayton; HarperCollins, 2021. 402 pages; $27.99 (hardcover); reading level: adult.

We meet twenty-eight-year-old heiress Nanée Gold (a beautiful American expat living in Paris, loosely based on a real figure) in the year 1938 as she pilots her private airplane and socializes with an artistic community that includes both real figures (such as surrealist painter André Breton and Nanée’s French adopted “brother” Danny Bénédite) as well as fictional ones (such as the widowed Jewish photographer Edouard Moss, with whom Nanée becomes romantically involved, and his four-year-old daughter, Luki). With the German invasion in September 1939 the characters’ privileged world explodes and they are scattered: Edouard to a French internment camp for artists, Luki to a monastery, and Nanée and Danny to Marseilles where they join Varian Frye (another real figure) and his American Rescue Committee feverishly working to spirit refugees out of France. It’s an intriguing plot set-up sabotaged by a series of writerly near-misses: Clayton’s research is impeccable but frequently too obvious, the individual characters’ stories are fascinating but never quite mesh into a satisfying whole, and the plethora of themes (upper class women in a patriarchal society, good versus evil, the purpose of the arts) pulls the reader in too many directions. The decision Nanée is forced to make in the final few pages of the book—should she escape to her home in America with Edouard and Luki or stay in France and continue her work with refugees?—which should have sprung organically from all that’s come before feels like nothing more than a roll of the dice. Perhaps the rush to publication prevented this best-selling author from pushing through that one last draft which might have brought all these wonderful pieces together into something very much finer.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

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