Madame Mirabou’s School of Love, by Barbara Samuel

Review by Columbine Quillen

Colorado Novel – March 2006 -Colorado Central Magazine

Madame Mirabou’s School of Love
by Barbara Samuel
to be published March 28, 2006 by Ballantine
ISBN 0-3454-6914-3

Nicole Carrington’s quintessentially perfect middle-class lifestyle is kicked to the curb after she endures a bitter divorce, loses her daughter to her husband, and lastly has her home burn to the ground, containing everything she had left of her old life. Nicole has no choice but to start over again, and she does. She slowly rebuilds her life by ignoring her society friends and following her dreams. Nicole pursues her fantasy of making perfume for a living, and begins to date –encouraged by a man who makes her feel vibrant and sexy again.

This is very much a chick lit novel for women in their forties and fifties. Despite the sexy 20-something on the cover, it’s the story of a mother who dresses in floral prints and frumpy pants; carries a little extra weight and goes for afternoon walks. Nicole is an easy character to get to know, because everyone knows somebody like her: she’s a woman who didn’t expect a divorce at a point in her life when her children were almost done with school and the house was almost paid off.

Despite her depressing situation, Nicole doesn’t let it get the best of her. Instead she decides to take hold of the reigns to her life. She is inspired by her new neighbor at their “divorcee” apartment building –Splitsville –who is the only person she can empathize with. All of Nicole’s old friends are so upbeat and giving that she is often sickened by their actions, but Nicole’s new neighbor, Roxanne, reassures her that it is only because they are all afraid that the same thing might happen to them.

Nicole also deals with the fact that her ex-husband, an African American, left her for a black woman. Because skin color is something Nicole has no control over, her anger deepens when she thinks about him leaving her for this woman. The interracial relationship is interesting, but surprising, since the book takes place in Colorado Springs, a place I generally associate more with very white, conservative Christians due to the influence of religious organizations in El Paso County –but Samuel never talks about that side of Colorado Springs.

Each chapter in this book starts with an entry from Nicole’s perfume journal, which I found annoying. The entries didn’t have anything to do with what would occur in the chapters, and were more cute and kitschy than revealing. But fortunately, they were easy to skip.

Madame Mirabou’s School of Love is a quick and easy read. The romantic tale in the book is a trifle uncomfortable, but such relationships probably are. The book has a bit of a fairy tale quality to it, but it imparts some good lessons for recently divorced woman: Nicole sees her opportunities and reflects on what she has always wanted to do –but couldn’t when she had different responsibilities.

Compared to the fare in similar novels, Nicole’s story is also fairly realistic, since she isn’t given a ton of money, or a wealthy family eager to bale her out. She works hard and relies on herself to make changes in her life.

Overall, this is a good read, even for a 30-year-old woman such as myself. But I don’t think many men would appreciate this book, because it is definitely chick lit.

Samuel is a nationally known author who is a third-generation native of southern Colorado. Madame Mirabou will be available on bookstore shelves in April and on-line. But support your local bookstore –if they don’t have it, they will order it for you.

Columbine Quillen is not the model on the cover of this book, although you were probably fooled. Check out her website, for snazzy and intriguing jewelry.