Sunday, October 01, 2006
The Blue Bistro by Elin Hilderbrand
First, my thanks to Erin for this recommendation. I now share your enthusiasm for the voice of Elin Hilderbrand.
Adrienne Dealey has spent the past six years working for hotels in exotic resort towns. This summer she has decided to make Nantucket home. Left flat broke by her ex-boyfriend, she is desperate to earn some fast money. When the desirable Thatcher Smith, owner of Nantucket's hottest restaurant, is the only one to offer her a job, she wonders if she can get by with no restaurant experience. Thatcher gives Adrienne a crash course in the business...and they share an instant attraction. But there is a mystery about their situation: what is it about Fiona, the Blue Bistro's chef, that captures Thatcher's attention again and again? And why does such a successful restaurant seem to be in its final season before closing its doors for good? Despite her uncertainty, Adrienne must decide whether to open her heart for the first time, or move on, as she always does.
Infused with intimate Nantucket detail and filled with the warmth of passion and the breeze of doubt, The Blue Bistro is perfect summer reading.
I loved everything about this book--setting, characters and conflict.
Hilderbrand’s voice, its cadence and punctuation, easily engages the read in Adrienne’s story. Her reliance on Adrienne’s POV for the entire telling keeps the reader poised for every experience, every sensation. I loved this girl. She was a very realistic study in all our own, ‘hard to explain’ contradictions—equal parts confidence and self-doubt, self-reliant in many ways, but dependent too, suffering both the emotional clarity and confusion that accompanies every journey. In Adrienne, Hilderbrand creates a woman we recognize—if not as a whole, then at least in little bits. The end result is testament to Hilderbrand’s understanding and identification with her character.
The Blue Bistro begins on a self-prescribed change for Adrienne. A new start, in a new place, with three simple rules: get solvent, be honest about the past and make better choices in men. I don’t know a single woman, myself included, who could argue these goals. As a result, I related to Adrienne fully by page three. And my attachment never wavered. Hilderbrand’s skillful introduction was followed by all the introspection, actions and reactions, and emotional responses expected from this woman. While she was complex and well, human…there were no jarring out of character moments. No special contrivances to accommodate plot. By virtue of that alone—letting the character remain true throughout—Hilderbrand became an auto-buy author for me.
Hilderbrand’s supporting characters were equally authentic. Although we are acquainted with each by way of Adrienne—The Blue Bistro is written entirely in her POV—it is not a limitation. Hilderbrand’s entire cast live as naturally for the reader as Adrienne does. Even Thatcher, the man Adrienne loses her heart to. He is a character whose motivation and intentions remain largely unknown throughout the book. For some, that omission may be enough to obliterate the romance. But if you allow yourself to fall into the story, you will find that Hilderbrand’s refusal to give readers Thatcher’s POV expertly heightens Adrienne’s experience—the delicious surprise that follows Thatcher’s unexpected and stolen kiss; the emotional fear that follows when she falls in love with him. None of us are sure that Thatcher will choose to return her love. It is an almost unbearable risk and readers feel the same vise grip about their hearts that Adrienne suffers. Ultimately, it makes for a far more poignant love story than those in which we are assured an HEA.
The uncertainty about Thatcher’s feelings leads me to the conflict that churns throughout The Blue Bistro. Its source is the relationship between Thatcher, restaurant owner, and Fiona Kemp, partner and chef. The nature and history of their relationship is unveiled slowly. It is a truth that is difficult to accept or completely grasp. Adrienne knows, deep down, that theirs is a platonic friendship. Yet she also recognizes that it has depth and purpose she may never realize in her own relationship with Thatcher—should they be allowed one. Hilderbrand’s depiction of such a friendship is beautiful. Honest and unapologetic. The tragedy inherent—what Fiona needs from Thatcher just now, the ill-timed love Thatcher has found with Adrienne, Fiona’s own unrequited love with another—all of it builds to the same vise-like grip in emotion, reason and resignation. It’s a highly emotional story, masterfully told by Hilderbrand.
One additional comment on characterization. The Blue Bistro—an upscale restaurant on Nantucket—plays a role with a script of its own. Some readers may even consider it the leading character. It provides the beat, or pace, of the story. It seems to hold the answer to what lies between Thatcher and Fiona. And it provides the backdrop and pulse of many of the story’s dramas. Hilderbrand uses it for setting and characterization—putting readers there by sight, sound and taste. Her descriptions of its frame, inhabitants and guests are rich and textured. Provided again in a voice distinguished by its cadence and punctuation. Erin is right. This is an author from which you only want more.