I wasn't totally convinced by this book in the opening chapter. Despite the rich description of the ponds at Cape Cod and the detritus of last night's dinner party. Elle Bishop's recollection of a sexual encounter up against the wall with her husband only metres away felt a little obvious, even gauche. However by the end of the book, I had to re-read that opening chapter and wasn't disappointed to find that the depth was there, I just hadn't known to look for it. And there was another reason I had to go back to it, because I just didn't want the book to end! In fact I had to stop myself delving back in and starting all over. The Paper Palace is the rather grand name that Elle's grandfather gave to their holiday house and cabins in Cape Cod, aptly named because it is lined with paper board. And this glorious place of beaches, swimming ponds, balmy evenings and buzzing cicadas is the setting of Elle's summers for the whole of her life. The story takes place over the twenty four hours following her illicit encounter but she has to go back fifty years and four generations in order to make sense of it and decide how to move on. And it has been a complex life of dysfunctional parents, a father who fails time and time again to choose his children over his lovers, and an emotionally absent mother so thwarted by her own devastating childhood, a tumultuous relationship with a sister she idolises and a pivotal event in her teens which continues to send haunting ripples through her life until the present day. And Jonas is the quirky soulmate who she befriended as a child and with whom she shares a devastating secret from which neither of them can hide. Cowley Heller's writing is beautiful and poetic, transporting you into the cool water of the ponds, the glistening light of the sun between the trees, the dizzying buzz of the cicadas. And the characters are well formed and despite their flaws all incredibly likeable. So much so that you feel the agony of Elle's decision, and sway back and forth with her between one great love and another great love, her husband or her soulmate.
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