Earlier this year you might’ve read about the Parisian flat left abandoned for the better part of a century. Though photographs of the frozen-in-time apartment went viral only recently, I read about the discovery several years ago and it inspired my debut novel A PARIS APARTMENT.
It was late in 2010, on the heels of yet another heart-punching rejection, this time in the form of a failed five-way auction, which was not even the worst of it (see also: canceled book contract). I was feeling pretty blue.
I was also feeling pretty “maybe I should concentrate on my family and the career that pays me in dollars instead of tears.” It seemed logical for a second. Until, of course, I remembered that I’m a writer. I had to write.
I took a little break, a few weeks, where I didn’t think about the characters I’d already created or pay attention to the ideas trying to coalesce in my mind. Then I started feeling itchy, anxious, and I knew the self-imposed hiatus wouldn’t last.
But what would I write next? I wasn’t sure I could better my last novel which, as quickly as editors claimed to love it, was summarily rejected.
Then, a stroke of luck. First: an unusual discovery on another continent. Then an agent who noticed. Three weeks after my (self-perceived) going-down-in-flames, my agent Barbara Poelle emailed me the following link:
Date: Thu, 21 Oct 2010 15:35:11 -0400
Subject: I’m not sure why
But there is something AWESOME and haunting about this story and I think you should file it away for a book at some point.
And there it was: a forgotten, treasure-stocked Parisian apartment, once owned by a courtesan and later shuttered for seventy years. “Awesome” and “haunting” were merely the start.
Immediately I was drawn to the Mickey Mouse doll slumped in the corner, the grand but faded Ostrich, and the papers crammed onto a bookcase. My brain decided the documents were the courtesan’s private journals. It was the first seed of what would become A PARIS APARTMENT.
I spent months researching the apartment and the people who might’ve walked into and out of it. Alas, the facts remained sparse, not an altogether bad thing for a writer of fiction. When I began the novel we knew only that a young woman stepped out of the apartment in 1940, locked the door, and fled to the south of France. She never returned.
The woman was the granddaughter of Belle Epoque courtesan Marthe de Florian. In the flat was a portrait of Madame de Florian, as rendered by famed portraitist Giovanni Boldini. The artwork later sold for over two million euro at auction but was not the only valuable in the home. The apartment was filled, floor to rafters, with hundreds of museum-quality pieces.
What happened to Marthe de Florian? How did she acquire so many exquisite items? Her granddaughter died in 2010 but paid rent for all those decades. What kept her away from the apartment and its roomfuls of lavish furniture, the stacks of priceless artwork? And what must it have been like to step inside the home after its seventy-year slumber?
My novel explores these questions through the intertwining voices of Sotheby’s furniture expert April Vogt and Madame de Florian herself. Interestingly enough, it was the voice of Marthe that came the easiest.
I still wonder why news of the apartment went viral in 2014 in a way it did not in 2010. Was it the influence of the wildly successful, art world-based novel The Goldfinch? Perhaps the ever-growing appeal of Paris? Or was it merely due to more Twitter and more tweeting?
Michelle Gable graduated from The College of William & Mary. When not dreaming up fiction on the sly, she’s spent her career in finance with focus on private equity, mergers & acquisitions, and, most recently, investor relations and financial planning and analysis. Born and raised in San Diego, Gable currently resides in Cardiff by the Sea, California with her husband, two daughters, and one lazy cat. A Paris Apartment is her first novel and will be published April 22, 2014 by St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books.