*Diney Costeloe. The French Wife.
Read by Georgia Maguire.
13 CDs. 15.25 hrs.
Clipper Audio/Recorded Books. 2020.
Diney Costeloe's The French Wife is a romantic and very complicated tale of two families - the St.Clairs of France and the Chalfonts of England. The novel captures the drama, suspense, and unexpected twists of a good audiobook.
When Lucas Barineau invites his English friend, Rupert Chalfont, to his wedding in France to Clarice St.Clair, little does he know how the meeting between Rupert and Clarice's younger sister, Hélène would develop. Rupert who uses the invitation to escape embarrassing situations at home, falls immediately and completely in love with Hélène, whose prior history was recounted in Costeloe's previous novel, Children of the Siege but which is concealed from her and others by her family. Gradually, the listener comes to understand the happenings of that story and the resulting close alliance forged between Hélène, kidnapped as a child in Paris during the 1871 siege, and Annette, a poor girl she met in the orphanage and who helped her return to her family. Annette, after leaving the orphanage, endures severe abuse at the hands of her employer/priest, prior to her employment with the St.Clairs. After Rupert returns to his English family, however, Hélène is relentlessly pursued by the dastardly bully, Simon Barnier, who wishes to "possess her" in marriage. When, through a series of mishaps – stolen letters, secrets, deaths – and the customs of the times, Hélène learns that Rupert has married his dead brother's fiancé, Kitty, her family determines that she must now marry Simon. She resigns herself to her fate, until moments before the wedding when Simon gives her an unpleasant foretaste of what marriage with him, as his "possession," will be like. Understanding the effect of such abuse from her own previous experience, Annette convinces Hélène to reject Simon by running away with her to Paris where they stay in an apartment owned by a friend, Mme. Sauze, who also works for the St.Clairs. The action is fast and furious and suspenseful as the predatory Simon closes in on his prey.
This excellent audiobook describes the friendship across class lines between Annette and Hélène, and how they manage to help and teach each other. The author describes late 19th century France and England's class structure at this time within families – in the relationships between husband and wife, family and staff, parents and children – and within society – between members of different social classes, for titled families, for men and women, and the expectations and protocols of society. The lives and treatment of women receive close attention – Annette, Hélène, her mother, Agathe Sauze, and Fran (Rupert's interfering sister).
Skillful narrator, Georgia Maguire, successfully captures the language, sex, social class, temperament, and educational level appropriate in the voices she creates for each character. Her ability to present these characters consistently and realistically enables the listener to better comprehend and follow the complexities of the story and its changing venues.
Adults and some teens who will enjoy this audiobook will include lovers of historical novels, romantic novels, family stories, and women's fiction, as well as those who like novels of suspense and intrigue.
Reviewed by Susan Allison