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Interesting,
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To Capture What We Cannot Keep: A Novel
by Beatrice Colin

Published: 2017-10-31
Paperback : 304 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 1 of 1 members

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.

In February 1887, Caitriona Wallace and Émile Nouguier meet in a hot air balloon, floating ...

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Introduction

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.

In February 1887, Caitriona Wallace and Émile Nouguier meet in a hot air balloon, floating high above Paris, France--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. Émile is expected to take on the bourgeois stability of his family's business and choose a suitable wife. As the Eiffel Tower rises, a marvel of steel and air and light, the subject of extreme controversy and a symbol of the future, Cait and Émile must decide what their love is worth.

Seamlessly weaving historical detail and vivid invention, Beatrice Colin evokes the revolutionary time in which Cait and Émile 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.

Editorial Review

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Excerpt

1


February 1886



THE SAND ON THE Champ de Mars was powdered with snow. A huge blue-and-white-striped hot-air balloon swooned on its ropes in front of the École Militaire, the gondola tethered to a small wooden platform strung out with grubby yellow bunting. Three figures, two women and a man, hurried from a hired landau on the avenue de Suffren across the parade ground toward the balloon. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. Discuss the novel’s epigraph, by Gustave Eiffel: “Before they meet at such an impressive height, the uprights appear to spring out of the ground, molded in a way by the action of the wind itself.” What sort of tone does the epigraph establish? How does it resonate with the novel that follows?

2. Caitriona is very much a woman constrained—by her status as a widow, by her poverty and her fall from high society, even by the clothes she wears. In our introduction to her, on the novel’s first page, Beatrice Colin writes, “She had laced tight that morning, pulling until the eyeholes in her corset almost met, and now her chest rose and fell in shallow gasps as she tried to catch her breath—in, out, in and out.” Were you therefore surprised by how her story turned out?

3. Jamie describes Cait as “a lady with real class,” despite the fact that she is penniless. Discuss the complex and nuanced portrayal of class in To Capture What We Cannot Keep. How is class tied to material wealth, education, social status, and family? How do the classes mix in the novel, and what is the fallout?

4. Eiffel tells Émile, of Paris, “reputation in this city is everything, you know that.”How does reputation shape the lives of Colin’s characters?

5. During a sightseeing boat trip in Paris, Alice “watch[es],with a mixture of horror and delight, as one of the women, still with a glass of red wine in one hand, pulled up her skirts to reveal purple bloomers and danced alone on the deck.” Discuss how Alice is frequently pulled between social propriety and Bohemian freedom. Does her character evolve over the course of the novel?

6. It’s clear that all of Colin’s characters are participating in sexual adventures. Yet as Jamie and the count show, the men seem immune to any censure while for the women, it can be their ruin. Does this double standard surprise you? Do you think things are much different today than they were back then?

7. Why is Gabrielle so devastated when she discovers that it was Émile who bought all of the paintings of her? When she laments, “I thought, I thought that at last all this meant something,” what does it reveal of her insecurities about her romantic life and her artistic legacy?

8. Do you find Gabrielle likable or sympathetic? Did your opinion of her change as the novel progressed? Discuss your feelings on the likability of the characters in general.

9. Discuss the important role the Parisian art world plays in the novel. Were you surprised at the contemporary reactions to now-beloved Impressionist painters? How does the aesthetic of the Eiffel Tower fit in (or clash) with Impressionism?

10. Émile believes that, in his art class, “his style was the exact opposite of his technical work; his line was loose, economical, free. And he wanted to capture what he couldn’t keep, the fleeting, the transient.” He believes, of his engineering, that “there was finesse in his composition of girders and blots; it was bold and brilliant, it was art.” How do these two artistic passions shape him? How do they complement his attraction to both Cait and Gabrielle? What does the novel’s title mean to you? How do you think it speaks to the other characters in the novel?

11. Why do you think Émile’s mother holds such sway over him? What does she represent in the novel?

12. Discuss this conversation between Cait and Émile, about the Eiffel Tower: “But the fact is that it is not trying to be anything rather than what it is. Nothing is hidden and the reverse is also true; nothing in the city can hide. From the top on a clear day, you will be able to see everything. It will all be gloriously transparent.”
“It’s what we want, isn’t it?” she said. “Transparency. One so rarely finds it.”
What is the symbolic importance of the Eiffel Tower in the novel, and in Émile and Cait’s relationship?

13. To Capture What We Cannot Keeps moves between Glasgow, Paris, Edinburgh, and West Africa. How are the characters affected by setting, and how is a sense of place evoked in the writing?

**Spoiler alert-**

14. Were you surprised that Cait moved to West Africa? What do you think her future holds?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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Member Reviews

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by dbublik (see profile) 04/19/19

 
by KSherwood (see profile) 02/14/19

 
  "It is Worth a Try to Capture What We Cannot Keep"by kt2342 (see profile) 11/16/17


Played out against the background of the building of the Eiffel Tower this is the story of a Scottish woman, widowed, impoverished and fallen out of society, who rather than accept the pro
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