Book Review: The Balcony

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A century-spanning portrait of the inhabitants of a French village, revealing the deception, despair, love, and longing beneath the calm surface of ordinary lives. What if our homes could tell the stories of others who lived there before us? Set in a small village near Paris, The Balcony follows the inhabitants of a single estate-including a manor and a servants’ cottage-over the course of several generations, from the Belle Époque to the present day, introducing us to a fascinating cast of characters. A young American au pair develops a crush on her brilliant employer. An ex-courtesan shocks the servants, a Jewish couple in hiding from the Gestapo attract the curiosity of the neighbors, and a housewife begins an affair while renovating her downstairs. Rich and poor, young and old, powerful and persecuted, all of these people are seeking something: meaning, love, a new beginning, or merely survival. Throughout, cross-generational connections and troubled legacies haunt the same spaces, so that the rose garden, the forest pond, and the balcony off the manor’s third floor bedroom become silent witnesses to a century of human drama. In her debut, Jane Delury writes with masterful economy and profound wisdom about growing up, growing old, marriage, infidelity, motherhood – in other words, about life – weaving a gorgeous tapestry of relationships, life-altering choices, and fleeting moments across the frame of the twentieth century. A sumptuous narrative of place that burrows deep into individual lives to reveal hidden regrets, resentments, and desires, The Balcony is brimming with compassion, natural beauty, and unmistakable humanity.

It’s rare that I have a difficult time summarizing books. This is one of those books. I picked it up because I saw it on NetGalley, and then my library got it in. The cover and the premise pique my interest, but unfortunately I was disappointed.

First, the title is deceiving. I’m expecting a lot of the drama of the lives we see to revolve around the balcony. Only one to two events surround the balcony. The pieces we are giving revolve around the estate as a whole: the manor house, the cottage, the forest, etc. We barely see the balcony or anything going on with the balcony through 98% of this book.

Second, the generations did not flow well. The book covers families whose lives revolved around this country estate. We’re given a date at the beginning and then we’re left on our own to make the connections to the previous characters. I think having the characters and generations flow chronologically or at least a name on that chapter would have made an easier read.

Overall, The Balcony is just a jumble of stories from different generations surrounding a house in the French country side. I really found nothing special in reading this novel.

The Balcony by Jane Delury receives 2 stars.

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