If you’re looking for an uplifting, inspiring story set in World War II, featuring a strong female lead, this is the book for you.
The Last Restaurant in Paris by Lily Graham starts with Gilbert Geroux, in 1987, who is forced by circumstances to remember a terrible night in World War II, a night he tried to forget and never could, the night his brother died.
Gilbert is in his old age, living peacefully when, out of the blue, lawyers contact him, pleading for him to talk to a young woman, the heiress of the infamous, abandoned restaurant across the street from his shop. He had known the original owner, Marianne Blanchet. He had worked for her during the Nazi occupation of Paris in 1941. He had even been in love with her and she had turned out to be a cold blooded killer, the one who poisoned her brother, as well as 20 other people, Germans and French. The event is now a legend and Gilbert is the only left alive who still remembers her.
Surprised to find out Marianne had had a daughter, he is intrigued to know her granddaughter and we get to know Sabine Dupris along with him. Sabine had only found out herself she has been left a restaurant, as well as a dark legacy. Finding out you are the granddaughter of the most hated woman of Paris is not an easy thing, but she is, most of all, curious about everything.
When visiting the restaurant, Sabine stumbles upon a passport with Marianne’s real name – Eloise. From that and small other facts she and Gilbert follow the clues that lead them to the monastery where Marianne had given her daughter into adoption. A nun there helps them puzzle together her life – an amazing one, that we, as readers, get to experience along with Sabine and Gilbert. Her story will shed more light upon the terrible murder Marianne committed, hopefully bringing closure to them.
Though the introduction is a bit lengthy with the meeting of Sabine and Gilbert, the real focus is on Marianne’s life. That’s when the book takes off and we can no longer put it down. We find out about her from the nun, who was also her good friend. Her story is emotional and beautiful and I thoroughly enjoyed it. At one point she stays with her grandmother in a small country village and her life is simply idyllic. She learns to cook and becomes as passionate about it as her grandma. She falls in love and has a child. Reading all of this was dreamy. It was very, very well written. The small details of life in Provence where exquisite. They simply made me want to live there as well. Marianne’s personality is carefully constructed so that we get to see the change in her, the change that made murder possible. I loved witnessing that!
Moreover, when the war starts, we get glimpses of what French people gone through when their government fled and allowed the German occupation – the generalized fear, the German politeness that hides their real nature, the idea of collaboration with them so as not to starve. These are small things, historical facts, that enrich Marianne’s story so much!
Ultimately, discovering what led her to kill everyone in the restaurant was very predictable. I would have very much liked the description of the book to be a lot less spoiler-y, it would have definitely enhanced the reading experience. Ultimately, though, the story made up for it. It was a very beautiful journey to get us to the know Marianne, her life and struggles.
Her story was one of grief and strength. She was cunning and manipulative and yet, we understood her completely. How you can excuse the fact that she murdered so many people? You must read the book and find out!
P.S. I received this book as an ARC from NetGalley. Watch on Goodreads here the publication date if you want to purchase it.
If you like WWII historical fiction, I recently read another wonderful book, action packed, featuring some awesome women spies. My review is here.