Updated: Mar 4
UPDATE: Since this was posted, the publisher has changed the name of the book to The French House
The Champagne Widow by Helen Fripp
Publication Date: 4th Mar 2021
Genre: Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction
Is there anything more beautiful than a book set in a small town sometime in the past? The cover picture and the blurb were more than enough for me to request the book. It wasn’t until I started reading that I noticed what the tiny red text on the cover said (yeah, talk about being distracted by the house and the vines).
The Champagne Widow is based on the true-life story of Nicole Clicquot. It was interesting enough for me that the book has both facts and fiction (even without knowing who the lady was). After closing the book at 25%, I searched the next day to find out more about Nicole Clicquot.
She was such a powerhouse, and how! During the time when women had no independence, much less freedom to run a business, Nicole Clicquot was a businesswoman who almost singlehandedly managed the vineyards (after her husband’s death when he was only 30 years old).
If you are familiar with the name, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you are like me, make sure to Google about her after reading the review.
Nicole Clicquot is managed and successfully pulled Veuve Clicquot, the world-famous champagne house, from losses during the most disastrous times. The book has war in the background, and it plays a major part in the story. Starting around 1790, when Nicole was a young girl of eleven, the book takes us through her journey through a life full of love, pain, death, loss, vines, and hope.
We see her as a strong, passionate, and remarkable girl who grows up to be the same as a woman. The vineyards belong to her and her husband, Francois. After his death and the increasing control of Napoleon over France and other countries, Nicole fights hard to keep the vineyards from ruin. The cut-off from their biggest market, Russia, causes losses to all of them.
The Book and its Characters
The storyline of the book is a mix of facts and fiction. The blend is seamless and makes the book an interesting read, if not a light one. It’s not a lighthearted story, nor does it have many happy moments. But still, the book keeps us interested to know more.
I do suggest reading it in installments. Many things happen one after another and taking a breather makes us appreciate the book a little more. It could otherwise get a bit too heavy.
The author created fictional characters for her plot, though Louis, the loyal salesman, is from real-life. What I liked about the book was character development.
Nicole, naturally, is very well etched. Louis, too. We then see Xavier, the childhood friend and a devoted worker of the vineyards. There’s Natasha, a Russian lady and a baker with second sight. There’s Madame Oliver who plays a role in the second half of the book. We see Theresa, the enigma, as she drifts in and out of the characters’ lives, but not without reason.
A book needs some bad men too, and we have Moet doing the honors. As expected, he is old-fashioned, rich, and arrogant. He hates that Nicole wants to establish her vineyard business without support from a man or that she refuses to sit at home and marry again.
Alexei enters the book towards the end. He has limited space but a powerful one. All in all, 70% of the characters have been well-thought-out, and that’s a plus. I did wish the grown-up daughter, Mentine, was less of a typical teenager of today’s world.
Setting and Descriptions
I’ve always been a fan of settings. A picturesque setting is sure to make me love a wee bit more. And this book has vineyards in France as the central theme. Sure, we see some of Paris and Russia, but it is the town, Reims, that is the heart of the story.
The descriptions are vivid and wonderful when the author talks about vines, seasons, nature, sedimentation, tasting, and champagne.
She brings alive the vineyard right in front of our eyes. If you a fan of wine or champagne, you will love the tasting sessions (in the book) where they describe the flavors.
That did work as a disadvantage at times, especially when Nicole keeps going back into the past. It reduces the pace of the story at times, despite so many events taking place in the book. Another reason why reading the book in installments is a good idea.
There is no happy ending per se, but we see that Nicole did something no one else could. She changed the way champagne was made. The book ends with her looking forward to a successful harvest after Napoleon gets banished and the trade with Russia is picking up. She plays a role in opening the trade lines sooner (at least for her champagne), and that brings fortune to their town.
Overall, this a beautiful book with more than its share of pain and failures. But it does show us that we can still win if we are determined enough.
I received an ARC from NetGalley and Bookouture.
About the Author: Srivalli Rekha is a blogger, writer, and amateur photographer. She got a degree in MBA and MA English Literature and chose to become a writer and a poet instead of a corporate professional.