‘In 1937, Lisette Roux and her husband, André, move from Paris to a village in Provence to care for André’s grandfather Pascal. Lisette regrets having to give up her dream of becoming a gallery apprentice, but she soon discovers the the hilltop town is rich with unexpected pleasures, and that Pascal once worked as a frame maker, befriending Pissarro and Cézanne and trading his frames for paintings. Pascal begins to tutor Lisette in both art and life, and inspired by his advice, Lisette begins a list of vows to herself (#4 Learn what makes a painting great). When war breaks out, André goes off to the front, but not before hiding Pascal’s paintings to keep them from the Nazis’ reach. With the fall of Paris, Lisette sets out to locate the paintings. Her search takes her through the stunning French countryside, where she will learn to forgive the past, to live robustly, and to love again.’
‘Lisette’s List’ is another book that I discovered a while ago on Goodreads, and I ordered it from the library as part of my ongoing Goodreads Challenge.
It took me a little while to really get into this book. It begins with the main character, Lisette, and her husband André, on their way from Paris to Roussillon to care for André’s aging and ailing grandfather Pascal. They meet all sorts of strange characters on their way, and Lisette is entirely out of her comfort zone, and not at all happy to be leaving the sophistication and culture of Paris.
When they arrive in Roussillon, they find Pascal engaged in a game of boules, in seemingly fine health, much to their confusion, as he had written to them pleading with them to come and stay with him.
While André tries to find work, which is near impossible for a frame maker in a place where there are no painting that need frames, Lisette cares for Pascal, who we discover is, in fact, in need of care, and in need of someone to listen to his stories of his life as a frame maker. He tells her of meeting the now famous painters Cézanne and Pissarro, and he tells her how he came to own eight unique paintings by them, and Picasso.
Lisette begins to fall in love with Pascal, as if he is her own grandfather, and she also falls in love with his stories, and with the paintings, beginning to see in them the beauty and the stories they tell.
As time passes, and André and a close friend of theirs, Maxime, are called away to war, Lisette realises that she must learn how to live by, and fend for, herself. The paintings have been hidden in a place that not even she knows, for fear of Nazi’s trying to take them from the house.
Left bereft by the absence of her husband, and the paintings, Lisette begins to relive her life.
Despite my initial slow start with this book, once I got into it, I loved it! With an array of brilliantly written supporting characters, and an increasingly likable main character in Lisette, Lisette’s List really is a story of survival, of re-invention, of friendship, of forgiveness, and of learning to love again.
The author describes with great clarity, the feelings of a small town French village, where everybody knows everything about everybody else, where they are mostly eager to lend a hand when it is needed, and where they look out for each other. The characters in the book are loving, and caring, without being overbearing, and they really help Lisette to carve a life out for herself in the at times unforgiving climate, during an uncertain war time.
Never is Lisette painted out as a weak, or needy character. There are times when she needs help, absolutely, but she figures a lot out for herself, and she never looks for help for nothing. She is a strong young woman, who has had a hard life, but who never gives in to her sorrows. She was a joy to read, and I really wanted her to get her happy ending.
The novel is written in the first person, present tense narrative, which really makes us feel like we are experiencing the events as they unfold, and this really adds to the book’s appeal. It makes us feel like we are on the same journey as the main character.
To me, this is at it’s heart, a love story. The love between Lisette and her husband, Pascal, her friends in the village, and her love of the paintings and the stories behind them. It is a story of survival, of perseverance, and a story about learning to love again.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys books with a strong female protagonist, anyone who enjoys books about survival, and anyone with a passing interest in reading about art and paintings (the artists mentioned in this book are real, some of the paintings referenced are based on real works of art), and anyone who just enjoys a good absorbing read!