I was drawn to read The French House because I realised that it was based on history of how some French women, including Veuve (‘widow’ in French) Clicquot, the heroine of this story, who lost their husbands at a young age are behind the world’s finest drink!
The French House
The vineyards stretched away in every direction as he plucked a perfect red grape, sparkling with dew. “Marry me,” he’d said. “We’ll run these vineyards together.” But now he is gone. There is no one to share the taste of the first fruit of the harvest. And her troubles are hers alone…
In sleepy little Reims, France, grieving Nicole Clicquot watches her daughter play amongst the vines under the golden sun and makes a promise to herself. Her gossiping neighbours insist that the rolling fields of chalk soil are no place for a woman, but she is determined to make a success of the winery. It’s the only chance she has to keep a roof over her head and provide a future for her little girl.
But as the seasons change, bringing a spoiled harvest and bitter grapes, the vineyards are on the brink of collapse. Without her husband’s oldest friend, travelling merchant Louis, she’d truly be lost. No one else would stay up all night to help count endless rows of green bottles deep in the cellars, or spread word far and wide that Nicole makes the finest champagne he’s ever tasted. One magical night, as a shooting star illuminates their way under a velvet sky, Nicole gazes up at his warm smile and wonders if perhaps she doesn’t need to be quite so alone…
But when Louis shrinks from her touch after returning from a long trip abroad, Nicole fears something is terribly wrong. And as an old secret about her husband – that only Louis knew – spreads from the cobbled village streets all the way to the Paris salons, her heart and fragile reputation are shattered. Was she wrong to put her trust in another man? And with Napoleon’s wars looming on the horizon, can she find a way to save her vineyards, and her daughter, from ruin?
Fans of Chocolat, Carnegie’s Maid, Dinah Jeffries and anyone longing to sip champagne under the stars will adore this stunning historical read, inspired by the true story of how Nicole Clicquot blazed her own path to build the world’s greatest champagne house: Veuve Clicquot.
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This book transported me to another world and I was completely taken up with a heroine who really plunges into everything with a feistiness that is so admirable.
Set in post-Revolutionary France, the book opens with a high spirit young Nicole who witnesses the slaughter of local townsmen at the hands of an aristocrat and his men. Coming from privileged background herself, Nicole cannot stomach this injustice and vows to put an end to it.
As she grows up, she breaks off the man her family arranges for her to marry, and marries Francois, who teaches her to fall in love with the whole process of wine making. But Francois is a troubled soul and Nicole is often left to manage the vineyards on her own, despite all opposition to a woman doing so. When she is widowed, she is determined to make a success and fulfill Francois’ dream for their success.
The author takes us on a fascinating journey as Nicole fights against society, has her heart broken and is drawn into the intriguing politics of that time as she tries to market her wines. As the heroine grows into a shrewd business woman and someone who patents a way to preserve wines, the reader is also privy to her vulnerability, business failures, heartbreak, her longing for love and her passion for the land, the vines and the wine making process.
There are other fascinating characters in the book too – Louis, Theresa, Natasha and even Moet – who in their own way support Nicole and yet their own flaws and weakness let her down too.
I found it difficult to put the book down! Will be looking forward to more books from this author.
A great historical, woman-centric book, this seemed such a fitting read for this Women’s History Month.
Helen Fripp loves historical fiction, and in her writing, she’s fascinated by the women throughout history who have made their mark against all the odds. She finds researching the architecture, art and customs of the time really inspirational, and the tiniest detail can spark an idea for a whole chapter. Her female characters rail against the social constraints to which they are subject and often achieve great success, but they are of course flawed and human, like the rest of us. It’s the motivations, flaws, loves and every-day lives of her characters that she loves to bring life, against sweeping historical backdrops – and she will find any excuse to take off and research a captivating location or person for her next story.
Her first novel is set in the Champagne region in France, and she is currently working on her next one, set in late eighteenth-century Paris. She spent a lot of time in France as a child, has lived in Paris and spent a year with her family in a fishing village in South West France, so that’s where her books have ended up being set so far. Who knows where next!
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Thanks to Bookouture and to NetGalley for this ARC for review. This is my honest opinion.