Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Collection by Gioia Diliberto

The Collection by Gioia Diliberto
Scribner, 2007
Fiction (Historical); 275 pgs

Started: 09/30/2007
Completed: 09/30/2007
Rating: * (Good)

Reason for Reading: One advantage to reviewing books for a publisher like Simon and Schuster is that I do not always know what books I may be getting in the mail next. There have been a couple of books that I glanced at and knew would not hold my interest and others that I could not wait to dive into. This particular one is not one I would have picked up on my own, but when I found it in my mailbox, it sounded interesting enough to try.

Comments: Gioia Diliberto's The Collection takes readers into the world of Parisian high fashion in the early 1900's. The competition was fierce and the working conditions exhausting. Weaving history with fiction, the author has written an entertaining novel that offers a glimpse behind the scenes of the glamour and beauty of the fashion industry.

Learning to sew at her grandmother's hand saved Isabelle Varlet from a bout of consumption that nearly cost Isabelle her life. Raised by her grandmother and three aunts in a small French town, the young Isabelle dreams of Paris and being a couturier. When she is old enough, she is sent to Agen to be the apprentice of Madame Duval, a dressmaker who had once worked with the famous Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, a woman whose talent and skill Isabelle comes to admire just as ferociously as her mentor once did.

When a childhood friend returns to Agen to run the family patisserie, Isabelle and Jacques are drawn to one another much to Madame Duval's chagrin. Isabelle and Jacques, however, could not be happier. A war, a terrible accident, and an influenza epidemic bring unexpected tragedy to the small French town. With encouragement and a letter of reference from Madame Duval, Isabelle sets out for Paris, seeking work at the House of Chanel.

Her own talent earns her a place with Mademoiselle Chanel, but the working conditions are difficult and the competition is brutal. Isabelle must find a way to shine if she is to succeed and yet to shine too brightly would not put her in favor with Mademoiselle.

The Collection is full of colorful characters, both real and imagined. The great designers of the era, Patou, Chanel and Vionnet all make an appearance. Mademoiselle Chanel is demanding and extremely critical of those around her. Her arrogance is matched by Monsieur Patou with whom she shares a mutual professional hatred. And yet there is a generous side to Mademoiselle, one that is rarely experienced, and one she prefers to keep secret. The fictional Fabrice, a designer on his way out, holds so tightly to hope that he will one day be among the greats again. Despite his flaws, it is hard not to feel sorry for him.

Isabelle is a charming and talented seamstress. She is extremely likeable, but at times seems too good to be true. The characters of Jacques and Daniel seemed such promising characters and yet the reader is left without the opportunity to really get to know either one of them. The dresses and fashions were described at great length and brought to life by the author's descriptions, however, the characters themselves remained somewhat superficial.

While the characterization may have left something to be desired, the story itself was intriguing. The author captured the tension and fever of the times. The threats of copyists, sabotage and thievery were very real both in the novel and in real life during that period of time. The Collection was enjoyable and the historical aspect interesting. I was offered a look into a world I otherwise might never have known.

Favorite Part: I loved the story of 10-year-old Isabelle making the shirt for Daniel and having nine-year-old Jacques wear it to church in order to try and get it to Daniel without it being so obvious.

Miscellaneous: Just a quick reminder that I will be holding a drawing for two duplicate books I discovered in my TBR collection on the 5th of this month. There is still time to submit your entry.


  1. I don't remember having seen anything about this book before, but it sounds like something I would really enjoy! I have added it to my list! Thanks for reviewing it!

  2. It's always great when something makes us read a book that we wouldn't think we'd enjoy, and we turn out to be proven wrong. At first glance I wouldn't think I'd be interested in this either, but your review made me realize I might enjoy it.

  3. This sounds like something I would enjoy also. Have to add it to my growing wish list.

  4. This sounds pretty good and not something that I would normally pick up either. Thanks for another great review.

  5. I think this sounds like it's worth a look ...

    Also, I'd love to be in the drawing for the Picoult book!

  6. This sounds interesting and I love the cover art. I might give this a shot as soon as I can find some time.

  7. Nifty! While I try to primarily take books that interest me for review, I of course do also end up with unexpected ones that publishers send to me. And I have to admit, it's introduced me to some great finds I just never would have read otherwise.

  8. Marg - I do think you might like this one. Maybe you can read and review it for the Historical Tapestry blog. :-)

    Nymeth - I like being proven wrong in those instances. :-)

    Lynne - Is your wish list as long as mine? LOL

    Jaimie - Thanks! I think the thing that reeled me in with this book was the historical aspect.

    Bridget - I've got you down for Picoult's book. :-)

    Ladytink - The cover is attractive, I agree. Nice and simple. I hope you like it if you do decide to read it.

    Heather - This particular publisher just sends books and I can pick and choose from what they give me what I want to read, as long as I read a certain number of them. There's usually a good enough variety that I find something I want to spend my time reading. :-)

  9. I really like the cover art, too, and this one sounds interesting - I'm particularly intrigued by the Coco Chanel aspect, even though I don't really know much about fashion. She just always seemed like quite the fascinating woman.

    Oh, my poor, bloated TBR list! :)

  10. Thanks, Wendy, for your kind words on my blog! I love how beautifully written your reviews are - you do a wonderful job! Happy reading!

  11. Tinylittlelibrarian - I didn't know much about her before I read this book (not that I know a whole lot now, of course), but it was interesting to learn a little something about her. I did a little online research after I read the book to see what was truth and what was fiction. As you said, she's a fascinating woman.

  12. I thought this one was a let-down, but you're so right . . . I wouldn't have even stopped to pick it up at the store and I'm glad I read it; the setting was what I liked best about it. Your review is much better than mine.

  13. This sounds like a fun read. I love the time period--almost any historical fiction actually. I'll have to watch out for it.

  14. Nancy - I wasn't sure I would like it in the first place, so my expectations weren't all that high. :-) Still, I think I did like it a little more than you did. It seems like we had many of the same complaints about the book though.

    Danielle - It is an interesting time period. I know so little about the fashion world, and much less about its history. So this book offered me a tiny bit of education in that regard.

  15. I agree with the others. I would probably never have picked this book, but it sounds so interesting. Completely different than anything else I've read as far as the subject matter. Thanks for the review.

  16. The twentieth century is more recent than I prefer my history, but I might have to borrow this if I see it at the library. It's probably about time I read something historical not set in the UK!

  17. Framed - You're welcome. :-) Nancy aka Bookfool also reviewed this one. She didn't quite like it as much.

    Coversgirl - If you do read it, I hope you like it. It's historical lite, if you well, but there's still some interesting historical tidbits in there.

  18. This book sounds like a lot of fun. Typically not my style, but you made it sound worth exploring outside of my "comfort zone."

    Thanks for sharing! =)


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