Penguin Group v-p and editor-at-large DeSanti presents an eclectic mix of ideas and social history in her debut novel.
At 17, Eugénie Rigault follows a seducer to Paris, but quickly finds herself on her own. She moves from artist’s model to prostitute, takes lovers, and gives birth to—and gives away—a daughter. In five sections that each quote Céleste Mogador’s scandalous Memoirs and unfold against the mid-19th-century turmoil of the Second Empire, DeSanti chronicles Eugénie’s attempts to build a life for herself, survive as a woman, and reclaim her daughter.
Eugénie, an admittedly unreliable narrator who refuses to accept advice or learn from her mistakes, is difficult to root for; she acts on impulse and expects to be rescued (and she is). But readers will find passion in the writing; DeSanti’s descriptions are full of lush, sensual detail. In the brothel, though she doesn’t give a sense of the men or the quotidian grind, DeSanti shines in depicting the dynamics between the girls, the business, and Eugénie’s internal conflict. Though it’s hard to care for such a self-centered heroine, the sweeping, fascinating epic is full of drama and beauty.