How do I tell you generous reader, how much I’ve loved a book without telling you EVERYTHING about this book and giving away spoilers … keep reading to find out I suppose 🤣
Favourite passage: Pg. 6 “… While the doctor is inside me, he cuts off an ovary, careless, rushing to carve the death out of life. this, too, I will not learn for many years. When I do, my mother cries for me for the second time. “I’m so sorry,” she says. “I should have made him be more careful …” – as if she’d had the power to change my fate, but chosen not to use it.
Later I lie in a hospital cot, arms tied down at my sides. I scream, cry, alive, livid with rage at this injustice. They will not let my mother feed me. Her milk dries up. Almost a week passes before they free my hands from their shackles. “You were always such a happy baby”, my father says. “Afterward,” my mother says, “you never stopped screaming.”
Favourite character: Wallace, Elle’s Mother
I devoured ‘The Paper Palace’ by Miranda Cowley-Heller in less than 24 hours! I am not joking when I say the pacing of this book being on point, the character development and historical exposure was just right and the story had me captivated from chapter one. Our opening scene is Elle, our main character, waking up at the paper palace – her maternal families beach side cabins in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The setting throughout this novel is very ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ by Delia Owens. If you liked Crawdads, think of this books as an instant buy – you will enjoy it just as much. Here is me giving you approval to go and buy ‘The Paper Palace’ right now!!
These beach side cabins have great significance to Elle, as it is the place she first experienced love and love lost, a horrific sexual assault and predatory behaviour from a family member, family breakdowns, isolation and death. All of these experiences we dissect as the story unfolds, and it is told through the structure of flashbacks – moving from past to present.
At some points of the book, we go right back and learn about Elle’s family on a generational scale. This gives us positionally and understanding for how Elle loves, her thought process’ and behaviours – most significantly within her marriage to Peter and decisions about Jonas. We learn about her grandmother’s marital and family home decisions, and how this has affected her mother’s childhood and behaviours. We then move onto her mother’s story and learn how sexual relationships, experiences and assault have impacted her relationships, marriages, mothering abilities and connection to her daughters. This brings Elle into the picture. When we move in the present, we are learning about Elle’s marriage to Peter and her lost love (or resurrected love) with Jonas. The flashbacks with Jonas were some of my favourites and seeing the two characters grow together was very captivating. We delve in bits and pieces into Elle’s father and his marital decisions – the divorce with Elle’s mother, his remarriage and what Elle’s relationship is like with him now. All of these peoples’ stories are giving meaning and understanding of why Elle is facing her uncertainties of love and marriage in the present.
If you look into this novel deep enough, it really is focusing on the impacts of generational trauma. That being; physical and sexual assault, marital breakdowns and the impact on children, emotional attachment as a child, blended families, secrets and their longterm impacts, as well as neglect. Maybe it is the Social Work part of my brain that appreciated the rawness of the writing and grit behind Elle’s mother, in particular her self-centred behaviour. I could see why Elle and her mother’s actions were justified.
Nevertheless, Elle’s marriage with Peter is challenging and beautiful, like most. But her love for Jonas is stemmed from first love, passion and longing. Even the ending leaves you uncertain of who she chose. This was my Literature Lovers book club pick for March and we had a wonderful meeting discussing every members thoughts, feelings and final conclusions on ‘The Paper Palace’. Overall, this book was a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (5/5) for me. I could not put it down, nor would I stop raving about it to one of my lovely colleagues who gifted me the copy. She knew how much I’d love it and for that, I am very grateful xx