I hadn’t read a book by Natasha Lester before, but that mistake was rectified when I picked up The Paris Secret (also called The Dior Secret?). Now, having read her latest, I understand why people rave about her work. I also know I have more marvellous tales to lose myself in. I feel, however, I need to explain why I haven’t read her before and I think it’s to do with the covers. I’m not sure why, but to me they suggest a different content to that which lies between them. It was a content I didn’t think I’d enjoy – how wrong can you be? I LOVED this book. The adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” is one I should have heeded in this instance. But of course, we do and I judged poorly.
The novel employs multiple timelines to tell the story of a group of disparate women at different stages in world history and women’s autonomy. There are the amazing women who flew planes during the war – not to fight the enemy, but to relocate them for airmen to both fly into enemy territory and deposit or pick-up resistance fighters/spies. It was incredibly dangerous and devalued work – the latter at least initially. In this part, the reader follows the lives of two sisters – Liberty and Skye – their estrangement and unconventional career paths. The men and women they encounter in their duties are brave, bold and reckless and the relationships they form are enduring and deep. Based on actual events and the history of these incredible women, I found this section riveting.
The book also explores the launch of Christian Dior’s first fashion collection post-war. Bold, stylish and extravagant, it speaks to a world hurting from war and its terrible aftermath. His sister, Catherine, was a resistance fighter who suffered when she was caught by Nazis. The gowns and the perfume he releases are a tribute to her.
Fast-forward to the present day, the third timeline and fashion conversator, Kat Jourdan discovers a wardrobe full of priceless Dior gowns in her beloved grandmother’s abandoned cottage in the UK. What is the connection between these gowns, her grandmother living in Sydney (where Kat is located), the sisters Liberty and Skye, never mind the war? What dreadful secrets have been kept and, more importantly, what’s the cost of exposing them?
This is a wonderful story, cleverly paced and plotted and filled with fascinating characters and history. I could barely put it down and read well into the wee hours in order to discover the fate of not just the sister and Kat, but the entire cast of this magnificent, emotionally rich and satisfying novel.