The Lost Girls of Paris (Book Review and Anachronism Rant)

The Lost Girls of Paris

The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Tl;dr: dnf-ing at 30%.

First, I would think a book about female wireless operators and saboteurs helping the French resistance in WW2 would slam-dunk the Bechdel Test. And technically it does pass; the female characters do have conversations with each other about things other than men. But the letter of the law and the spirit of the law do not always agree. I can spot a hate-meet insta-love setup at 300 paces, and spotting two of them is painful. This reads like romance disguised as historical fiction. Not a Bechdel winner.

Second, I hate anachronisms. I’m no historian, so if I can spot them, they’re fairly egregious. Like, I seriously doubt anyone was watching a televised newscast on a TV hanging over the counter in a diner in 1946. But what’s really pissing me off are the nylons.

This conversation is from Marie’s training to be undercover in occupied France in 1944 and getting dragged about doing things the French way so as not to give herself away as English:

“And these stockings…” The colonel held up the pair she’d worn when she’d arrived the night before.

Marie was puzzled. The stockings were French, with the straight seam up the back. What could possibly be wrong with that? “Those are French!” she cried, unable to restrain herself.

“Were French,” the colonel corrected with disdain. “No one can get this type in France anymore, or nylons at all for that matter. The girls are painting their legs now with iodine.”

No. Just NO. Nylon stockings, soon dubbed “nylons,” were invented by an American and first produced in the U.S. in 1940. They were immediately and immensely popular, but they had seams up the back. Seamless stockings were rare anywhere even by the late 40’s and didn’t become popular until the late 50’s or so (confirmed by my mom and a friend’s mom, aged 81 and 88 respectively). When the U.S. entered WW2 in 1941, it diverted its nylon production to the war effort just as Japan did with its silk, resulting in a widespread and severe stocking shortage for women. During the war, women everywhere faked nylons/stockings by shaving and painting their legs with various substances, and many went further by drawing on “seams” with eyebrow pencils. The Great Google tells me that the British did have some nylons they used as recruitment enticement for the WRENS, but even if they were made of much-less-desirable cotton (and therefore not really “nylons”), they still would have had seams.

And after all that? Marie is later escorted to the plane that will drop her into occupied France wearing…her nylons. But I guess the nylons aren’t much of a risk since she’s the most birdbrained, blabbermouthed undercover saboteur/wireless operator imaginable.

Another character in a different timeline also has nylons that have apparently been torn in a one-night-stand with the chance-met best friend of her dead husband. I doubt she would have had a pair of nylons even in February 1946, given that only a month prior nylon stockings were still so scarce they were actually rioted over, and even if she’d taken a day off of work to participate in those riots and get a pair, they were precious enough that she would not have wasted them on a workday.

I never thought I’d read a book where nylons killed it for me, but the devil is in the details, as they say. I suppose I’m glad they aren’t pantyhose.

I could possibly put up with this if the writing was good, but the characters are cardboard, there’s far too much telling vs showing, and the contrivances show up like seams on stockings. Now I just read the part where Marie is thrown into proximity with her hate-meet romantic interest, because even though he’s the leader of the undercover British sabotage efforts in occupied France, he needs her with him (nylons and all) because he doesn’t speak French.

Nope, I’m done. The only reason I’m not throwing the book across the room is that it’s on my Kindle.

Bookshelves: abandoned, anachronisms-abound, historical-fiction, just-no, ww2

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Author: Deborah Lee

I like trees, dreaming, magic, books, paper, floating, dreaming, rhinos, rocks, stargazing, wine, dragonflies, trains, and silence to hear the world breathe.

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