A Paris story that could have been more
aerial pictures of the city when a woman suddenly grabs his arm: “Excuse me,” she says, “but it looked like you were about to … fall.”
“Not today,” Emile jokes, but he is about to fall — in love. As romantic settings go, you can hardly beat floating above Paris in a balloon. Still, this will not be an easy flight for Émile, nor for the Scottish woman who has reached out to him. She’s Mrs. Cait Wallace: 31 and widowed. After sliding perilously close to poverty, she has taken a job as a chaperone. Her charges are Alice and Jamie, the adult wards of their wealthy Glasgow uncle, who has sent them on a grand tour of Europe.
Colin is a talented literary engineer herself, even if she’s working with some rusty conceits. Emile and Cait are both lonely adults, barred by their own versions of responsibility from pursuing happiness. They are as right for each other as any of the perfectly matched parts forged for the Eiffel Tower, but they will be the last to admit that. While Émile carries on a joyless affair with a beautiful opium addict, he knows he must find a young woman to satisfy his dying mother’s hopes for a house full of children. Cait, meanwhile, is so haunted by her failed marriage that she feels “stuck between floors, between rooms, between youth and old age, a person without status, without a husband, without a future. Was this living or merely waiting for the inevitable?” She looks forward only to “a life of polishing pews and arranging flowers, of prudence and parsimony.”
We never get to see just how well Cait could polish a pew, but she proves a rather incompetent chaperone, which supplies most of the story’s humor and calamity. Alice is pretty and Jamie is good-looking, and, naive as they are, they’re both crafty about slipping away to pursue their respective libidinous adventures in the City of Love.
If you have never read a novel by Jane Austen or watched a costume drama on BBC, “To Capture What We Cannot Keep” will provide a string of shocking plot twists. But it’s a shame the story is not more ambitious, a little more charged by the radical dimensions of its central image. Although several famous figures make cameos, they appear so faded by time that they offer little impression, and the revolutionary artistic movements of the era are reduced to scenery.