Michelle Keill: The Four Women
Published By: Trixie Books
Buy It: here
What The Blurb Says:
‘Go inside, Alexandre is expecting you…’
It is the height of summer in Paris when Grace, a young British writer, and her artist boyfriend move to the French capital. Grace is captivated by the glamour of the city and yearns to be part of chic Parisian society. Before she knows it, Grace is befriended by four enigmatic women who represent everything she longs to be. But Grace can’t recall where she met these women, when they entered her life, or how they seem to know so much about her.
The four women insist she seek out Alexandre Martel. He is a French tutor par excellence, and could not only teach her the language, but his influence could also open the door to the exclusive Parisian elite she so admires – although, the women warn her, Alexandre’s methods are not for the faint-hearted.
Her instincts warn her not to get involved, but Grace soon becomes embroiled in Alexandre’s world. He is a brilliant, unsettling teacher. But for his lessons there will be a price to pay…
The Four Women brings a cold shiver to a hot Paris summer in a dark, supernatural fairy tale about the choices we make, the lies we tell, and the inescapable force of destiny.
What I Say:
I was given a free copy of The Four Women by Michelle Keill in exchange for an honest review.
As regular readers of my blog know, I am always honest about the books I review, and when Michelle asked me if I would like to review her novel I have to admit I was slightly nervous. What if I didn’t enjoy the book, or found it difficult to review?
Fortunately, this was not the case! The Four Women is a unique novel which brings to the fore a number of interwoven themes, such as love, passion, relationships and confidence, in an intriguing and layered read.
“I stared at the name on the card. Alexandre Martel. The name I will never forget.”
Grace and Mats have decided to stay in Paris for as Mats follows his passion of painting, and Grace attempts to write a novel. Although Grace enjoys being in Paris, she finds not being able to speak the language a source of frustration and longs to feel the same sense of belonging that Mats so obviously does. Mats finds Paris a source of inspiration, and his output of paintings becomes prolific, whilst Grace cannot put a word on the page. Almost from the start, the reader can sense there is some sort of disconnect between Grace and Mats, and that the different experiences they are having in Paris, is serving to pull them further apart.
One day, while Grace is in a restaurant, she notices four women who start talking to her and seem to pity her for her inability to master their language. The way that they were introduced added to the air of mystery, I felt that Michelle’s writing immediately added a sense of unease – they seemed to appear out of nowhere, and the slightly distanced air they have makes them seem other worldly almost.
They encourage Grace to approach the mysterious Alexandre Martel, a French teacher who is renowned for his unconventional teaching methods and the exclusivity of his lessons. If you receive lessons from Martel, you are immediately given access to the exclusive Parisian social circle that so many people long to be part of.
Mats tells Grace that he has been commissioned by a benefactor, Madame Dumas to paint for her, but he refuses to tell Grace the details, and asks that she does not look at his work. As Grace says;
“It was his first secret, and my last promise”.
As Grace finally finds the courage to go and find Martel, she is faced with an imposing and unwelcoming building, that adds only to the mystery surrounding him. The first lesson she attends is far from conventional. Martel’s method of learning French is to dance with Grace, spinning her round the room as he speaks to her. In that moment, she feels almost as if she is having an out-of-body experience, and she is aware of the presence of the Four Women in the room with them. It is as if she is starting to lose her grip on reality. From that moment, Martel has a connection with Grace, and that whether she knows it or not, he will start to consume her day-to-day life.
The really interesting idea is that Martel, Dumas and the Four Women are inextricably linked, and that is something that is both a central theme and is present throughout the whole book. When Grace voices her reservations to the ever-present Four Women, they hint that her refusal to work with Martel could lead to Mats losing his commission.
Mats and Grace are trying to maintain their relationship as Martel and the Four Women are in the background of their life in Paris. The Four Women always seem to be around wherever they are, and Grace’s thoughts are filled with the mysterious French teacher whose methods and behaviour are affecting her in more ways than she can admit to. She loves Mats, and wants a future with him, but is aware that she is under the spell of Martel, and that he has forced her to confront something within herself that she does not want to. The Four Women seem to act as Grace’s conscience, articulating the thoughts that she does not want to face. They know that Martel has a hold on her, and it feels as if they are circling Mats and Grace, ready for the inevitable collapse of their relationship.
In the meantime, Grace’s neighbour, Brigitte, tells her that she is sure she has heard crying in their apartment, and Grace is obviously concerned for Mats’ welfare and whether the commission is as innocent as he would have her believe.
Alexandre invites Grace and Mats to his party, which is an honour not afforded to many, and something that they are far from comfortable with, but feel that they should be seen to be there.
Ironically, although Grace senses that she and Mats are far from secure in their relationship, it is at this point that Mats decides to propose. As they arrive at the party, Mats feels unable to go in with Grace, and although she initially refuses to go without him, Mats persuades her that it is the right thing to do. He walks away from her and we know that it is forever.
The party feels claustrophobic and has a sense of foreboding as soon as Grace enters, and the Four Women have also played a cruel trick on Grace by convincing her that she has to wear a green dress, when of course the dress code is black dresses for the women. She already feels self-conscious and out-of-place but inexplicably she has to keep walking through the rooms to find Martel.
When Grace does find him, it unleashes a dramatic chain of events which Grace could never have predicted, and spins the novel in another direction that I never saw coming, but serves to cleverly slot all the events of the book into place. Grace has been drawn into a world which has left her battered and bruised, but the overriding feeling is that she is not Martel’s first victim and she certainly won’t be the last.
The Four Women is a sharp, crisp and unsettling novel, which pulled me in from the first chapter, and made me want to find out the disturbing connection behind the Four Women and Alexandre Martel. It is a credit to Michelle’s clever writing that I could not predict what was going to happen, and that I really enjoyed reading The Four Women to find out.