Title: The Riviera HouseAuthor: Natasha Lester
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: August 2021
Favourite quote: ‘Art is all we have when words fail us, when mankind fails us and when we fail each other. If we don’t save these works, we can’t save ourselves.’
Natasha Lester’s The Riviera House is an inspiring story that sheds light on the courageous few that risked their lives to hide and protect national treasures during the Second World War. Split between two timelines, the story follows Élaine Dufort (1939) and Remy Lang (2015), two intelligent and independent women whose love and sacrifice brings their lives together.
The Riviera House is the first book I’ve read by Natasha Lester, and I was pleasantly surprised to find how much I enjoyed the warmth emitted in her writing. From the romance to the character development, and even the detail in fashion, Lester created a charming atmosphere that I was immediately drawn into. But what initially captured my interest was the focus on the seemingly small battles to preserve history and culture, and the courage and hope of those trying to survive.
Lester does an amazing job of immersing the reader in each character’s distinct conflict: Élaine works at the Louvre Museum, cataloguing artworks under the careful watch of Nazi officials that occupy France, whereas Remy has retreated to the solitude of a private estate she mysteriously inherited on the French Riviera, wanting to focus on her fashion business rather than confront her grief. Despite the initial abruptness that comes from the dual perspectives, I constantly found myself falling into the drama, and often forgetting that there was another story lurking just a few pages away. Time and time again I was pulled out of the story. But as the mysteries began to unfold and tension grow, the suspense of being forced out of the action urged me to keep reading, only for the tension to grow once again before being forced back into the previous perspective—it was truly an endless cycle of cliff-hangers.
Amongst the scheming, the betrayal, and the heart-break, the Riviera House is surprisingly tender. The story highlights each character’s pursuit to happiness and the things they will sacrifice protect it. While reading this story, I often found myself agonising over the choices the characters had to make, but I never found myself overwhelmed by the dire situation or the bleak and brutal environments they were subjected to. At its core The Riviera House is a story of preservation, of protecting one’s ability to freely express oneself and inspire others.
Perhaps I’ve simply found a very specific crossover of my interest in art and history, but the emotions depicted in this story are sure to connect with many readers. If you enjoy the charm of historical romances and courageous female characters, be sure to pick up Natasha Lester’s The Riviera House!