This story is basically the inspiration for the movie While You Were Sleeping. I love the movie, so I suppose it’s not a surprise I enjoyed this book as well! There were elements of comedy, romance, and delightful descriptions of Paris. It’s set during World War I so it definitely feels similar to Downton Abbey in some ways, however it has a much lighter tone. I love historical fiction because you can be immersed not only in a different place, but a different time as well. This book does not disappoint in that respect. It’s definitely a very romanticized version of Paris during wartime, I’m sure. However it was enjoyable to read. I feel like I got to visit all the restaurants and shops and walk down the streets of Paris in 1918 after reading this book.
Rose Whitelands is on her way to become a governess when she meets an outspoken cockney actress who announces she’s a war widow. One thing leads to another, and the cockney actress finagles things so that Rose is forced to pretend to be her, and visit her dead husbands’ parents in her place Another thing leads to another, and Rose finds herself unwilling to own up to the truth after meeting the war hero’s family. Then more things lead to yet more things and they end up in France, where Rose may or may not finally own up to the truth.
The setting and descriptions were pretty magical, and so charming. If you don’t like flowery descriptions this book probably isn’t for you. Like I said earlier, you basically get to visit Paris and see it through the eyes of a rich young tourist during the wartime in France.
Despite being happy and relatively light, it’s still set during the war and that tragedy and sadness seeps through in places as it should.
I liked the heroine, she was very gentle and quiet yet she also has a bit of a sarcastic inner monologue which is fun to read. Also her character has depth, as the story progresses you find out she lost her family which definitely adds more context to the choices she’s made and why she’s so reluctant to give up her fake husband’s family.
The male characters are condescending, and the tone overall can be a bit sexist. There were a couple places especially towards the end that made me grit my teeth a bit and feel like banging my head against a door. For instance, the main guy explains that he doesn’t like clever girls. Rather his “ideal woman” is someone docile and meek who would stay at home yada yada yada. Ugh, it’s hard because I feel like despite these spots and moments Berta Ruck is pretty forward thinking for her time, and the female characters are quite strong and independent in many ways. However this was very much a present part of the book.
Although Rose works, she very much views it as drudgery and a trap to get it out of, preferring to do nothing and get married I suppose. Although there’s more to it than that, she always wants a family and community. Still that bothered me a bit, work can be fulfilling and interesting given you’re in the right type of work.
Books (and movies) it’s similar to:
- Agatha Christie’s books, not for the plot but for the general tone and characters. Both are very light and “fluffy” in a way, and have that old-fashioned charm to them.
- While You Were Sleeping, because it’s basically the same plot in many ways!