Florence and Lilli meet at finishing school in Lyon. Despite some differences, they forge a firm friendship that promises to last a lifetime. But a terrible betrayal prematurely tears them apart.
Years later in England, Florence has become the woman her friend knew she could be – creative, bold, and independent. The exact opposite of Alice, a young woman troubled by a recent trauma, whom Florence is determined to help bring out of her shell. Just as Lilli once did for her.
When Florence discovers that the novel she’s reading is written by Lilli and is based on their time at school, the two stories begin to unfold together. Past events illuminate the future, and it becomes clear that long-held secrets can’t stay buried for ever.
Lyon, France, April 1958
The question I suppose you might ask me, when you get to the end of this story, is whether I would have changed anything had I known how it was going to turn out, and the answer is absolutely not. Of course, there are myriad ways in which my life could have turned out differently, many dependent on the actions of other people, but regarding my own actions – the only ones I, Eleanor ‘Lenny’ Cranshaw, could control, after all – I can tell you right now that I wouldn’t have changed a damned thing.
But back then, on that chilly spring night in April 1958, loiter- ing on a street corner in the dark, looking at my watch every ten seconds as I waited for Fran, I felt less confident than my actions in the previous months had hitherto implied. What the hell had I done? How had my year at school in France, which had started with such giddy excitement, ended in this remarkably abrupt and unexpected manner? I looked down at my shoes – black leather Oxfords, a little dirty – and hysteria bubbled up in my chest to think of our esteemed headmistress Madame Bouchard catching me standing on the street in the dark like a lady of the evening, all her judgements about me confirmed.
You’ve demeaned yourself, Eleanor, wasted all that potential.
I tried to breathe evenly to quell the laughter; white wisps appeared and then dissolved on the cold night air. But it wasn’t funny, the situation I found myself in. In fact, though I hadn’t ever said it aloud, it was actually a little daunting.
That certainly wasn’t a word I’d used with Fran when the two of us had discussed our plan late at night, talking in whis- pers in our bedroom at the school. Daunting? Hardly. It’s going to be wonderful, honey, I’d said. I’m going to make it wonderful, I promise. I was the confident one, the persuader, cajoling her with my boundless enthusiasm. I had to be, since she wasn’t. I had to tell her that we’d conquer this new life we were embark- ing on, Fran and I. Fleeing the school would be liberating, and possibly quite thrilling. We could do this because we’d have each other; together, we’d make it work.
I’d convinced myself in the end, I really had (all these years later, I am still good at convincing myself to do things I possibly shouldn’t), and I thought I’d convinced her, too.
I looked at my watch again. It was nearly ten past eleven. Come on, Fran. There was only so long I could hang around before the lights would come on in the chateau, the alarm would be raised and Bouchard would send out a search party in an attempt to drag me back. And that simply could not happen. I was finished with that place, with its rules and conventions and double standards and constraints. And it was finished with me, too, though not in the way it had intended, and I still derive considerable satisfaction from that.
Thank you, Caroline Bishop and Random Things Tours
About the Author
Caroline Bishop began her journalism career at a small arts magazine in London, after a brief spell in educational publishing. She soon moved to work for a leading London theatre website, for which she reviewed shows and interviewed major acting and directing stars. Caroline turned freelance in 2012 and a year later moved to Switzerland, where her writing veered towards travel and she has contributed to publications including the Guardian, the Independent, the Telegraph and BBC Travel, writing mainly about Switzerland, and co-wrote the 2019 edition of the DK Eyewitness Guide to Switzerland. For two years Caroline was editor of TheLocal.ch, an English-language Swiss news site, and it was during this time that she became fascinated with aspects of Swiss history and culture, particularly the evolution of women’s rights