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The Unruly Passions of Eugénie R.

3.42  ·  Rating Details ·  607 Ratings  ·  86 Reviews
“As fiercely depicted as the paintings of Toulouse-Lautrec.” — Stephanie Cowell, author of Claude and Camille

Love and war converge in this lush, epic story of a young woman’s coming of age during and after France’s Second Empire (1860–1871), an era that was absinthe-soaked, fueled by railway money and prostitution, and transformed by cataclysmic social upheaval.

Eugénie R
Hardcover, 419 pages
Published March 27th 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2012)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Sarah Coleman
Jul 17, 2012 Sarah Coleman rated it it was ok
This book is a nugget of good story, wrapped in several layers of unnecessary description. In the end, the story becomes both dry and bogged down, which is too bad, because I really enjoyed the concept.

I guess I also expected that Eugenie's passions would be a little more, I don't know, unruly? While there is no doubt that her passions and poor judgement are the start of the book, most of it feels like she is coping with circumstances. She even becomes a generally respectable person in her world
I have started this book and put it down several times, and this time it's being put down for good. Literary fiction and I just don't get along, and I'm going to make a great effort never to touch it again. Too many pretty words and long descriptions signifying nothing. YMMV. As far as I read, the book begins around 1860 in Paris. Eugenie R was a goose girl who came to Paris (I really don't understand the circumstances of how she got there), falls on bad times and ends up in a house of ...more
Jun 24, 2012 Charlie rated it it was ok
Carole Desanti colors the pages of this drawn out French-period novel with mountains of purple majesty. The dreaded purple prose, flowery and full of poetic nostalgia, much like Hemingway, works to romanticise the time period, which is muddied by sin and war. The premise of the book has all the makings, but suffocates any tension with gruelingly prolonged descriptions. Instead of building the scene, I felt this approach drained any footing gained by forcing the reader into a poetic, meandering ...more
Christy B
I didn't know what to expect with this book. The bare bones summary is: Eugenie is abandoned by her lover in Paris. Once she realizes this, she does what she has to to survive. She soon realizes she's pregnant and eventually has to give the baby up, determined to get her back again. Along the road of survival, she meets many interesting and revolutionary people, friends, lovers, etc.

The book was told in the first person, which doesn't always work. It almost didn't work here, but once the story g
Meg Ulmes
Jun 12, 2012 Meg Ulmes rated it liked it
I'm not quite sure what to say about this book. There were chapters that I loved, chapters that I skimmed, chapters that I hated, and chapters that made no sense. In fact, much of the book made no sense to me. It is beautifully written--as to prose style. It certainly creates the period in which it takes place. Its plot is buried--like a dog's bone in a closely planted garden--difficult to spot and even more difficult to dig up without harming the plants around it. I read to the end to find out ...more
Julene Bair
Nov 11, 2013 Julene Bair rated it it was amazing
In this "grand repas" of a novel, the author, and therefore her readers, inhabits the heart and mind of a woman who, like most, wants romantic love, wants a child, and wants the freedom to live a productive life. But unlike most, Eugenie R savors and endures the chaotic place and times that are her lot with absolute subtlety and insight. Seldom have I read a book this intelligent and artful.

I read it at bedtime, and soon I was turning back the covers an hour earlier than usual and turning out t
Mar 03, 2015 Susanne rated it liked it
I listened to this on an MP3CD, read by the incomparable Kate Reading. It was a joy to listen to her beautiful Parisian French accent -- made me want to pull out my old school French texts and brush up. The story is lush but over-long, I think. It's an eye-opening look at the few, difficult options open to women in 19th century Paris, and a woman's eye view of the Franco-Prussian War, about which I knew absolutely nothing. Interesting, but a VERY leisurely read.

At novel's end I concluded that I
Actual rating is closer to 2.5 stars

Somewhere during the course of this book I stopped reading for pleasure, stopped reading as an enjoyable pastime but began reading for the sheer determination of finishing what I'd started. That's not to say the book was entirely bad. On the contrary, it had great "bones". The story wrapped up in overly descriptive and run on language was very interesting. It was the cutting through them that was tedious and mind numbing. I'll also say if you have not had some
Sep 06, 2012 Etcetorize rated it did not like it
This was not an easy book to read. The style is almost stream of conciousness and at times very difficult to follow. Much of the time it goes on and on about observances that have seemingly little to do with the actual plot line.

We often hear about the ladies and fine gentlemen of history, but little of the people who had to struggle just to eat or stay alive. Eugenie's story holds great promise even though it's sad and somewhat tragic. Unfortunately though, for me, this book was just frustratin
Jan Freeman
Sep 08, 2013 Jan Freeman rated it it was amazing
I am haunted by this extraordinary historical novel. I've told everyone I know to read it, and I've given many copies as gifts. The detail in the depiction of characters is lush. The story of Eugenie is so compelling I had to allocate reading the novel to post 10 pm or I would have skipped work to read it all day, night, day till I reached the end. It is politically important without clobbering readers over the head. The setting and characters are so vivid I wonder if the author was in a trance ...more
Nuit Moore
Sep 29, 2012 Nuit Moore rated it really liked it
DeSanti's debut is fairly kick ass. Why? The atmosphere it left me with remains potent and haunting. This novel is packed with sensory and observational detail, not failing in that aspect once through the lengthy read...yet remains so strongly cohesive that it reads like an actual memoir. I am a proponent of reincarnation, and the Paris I know I have known before was within reach through this book. Heartbreaking, horrifying, sensual, and human. A wonderful account of a woman's rather tumultous ...more
Aug 04, 2012 Joanray04 rated it it was amazing
This is about a young woman who lived in Paris during the tumultuous mid 1800s. It was a time when women had few choices, and men held all the power. She makes her way through a life of prostitution and has a child she leaves at a convent, which is her greatest sorrow. Through her wits and her talents, Eugenie slowly makes a better life, and searches for her little girl. But it is the wonderful writing, the well drawn characters, and the powerful sense of time and place that the author draws ...more
Sep 04, 2013 Laurel rated it it was amazing
Historical fiction at its finest. This is a fabulous exploration of a woman finding ways to empower herself in the most dire of unfortunate circumstances. Not only did I learn the history of a period from a woman's perspective, but I also felt viscerally how we've had to trade our flesh at times just to survive. Eugeny R. is the quintessential survivor, true to herself, and full of passion and wit. The writing is flawless. I find myself wanting to travel to Paris and retrace her footsteps, and ...more
Chantel McCray
Jul 24, 2012 Chantel McCray rated it it was ok
Here's the thing... Eugenie's passions aren't all that unruly. Basically, she falls in love with an ass who takes advantage of her and leaves her pregnant and destitute in Paris where she is forced into a horrid life of prostitution. So rather than being a story of passion, it's a story of an unhappy woman coping with the consequences of her naïveté and bad taste in men. Somewhat interesting to read about life in Paris during this time of political upheaval, but overall a forgettable story.
Marie Hartwell-Walker
Nov 20, 2016 Marie Hartwell-Walker rated it it was amazing
Compelling story, beautifully, at times poetically, told.
Whitney St-Marseille
Let me start by saying that I had a hard time writing this review for this story. There is so much that I want to say, yet I'm having trouble finding the words for it. If you enjoyed "Memoirs of a Geisha" or "Great Expectations" you will probably enjoy this book as well.

Desanti's "The Unruly Passions of Eugenie R." is a story of a girl being a woman, her fall from graces, loss of innocence, and naivety of the world. Born to a respectable family in a provincial French town, she is raised to alway
Jul 30, 2012 Christine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012-reads
Eugenie R. was raised in the countryside of France on a farm that produces fois gras. When a handsome and titled man professes his love for her she flees to Paris on the promise that he will soon follow. When he does not show up at their meeting place Eugenie finds herself left to her own devices and quickly trapped in the underbelly of Parisian society. Through Eugenie’s eyes we witness Paris in the mid 1800’s, the artists, the bordellos, the politics and the scandals, but most importantly the ...more
I like reading stories set in times that we only get a quick summary of in history class (at least here in the US). This one is set in France during one of the wars between France and Prussia, told from the point of view of a registered prostitute (inscrit) who finds a way to survive. A great look at a female perspective on war, and how isolating a city can be, even with millions of people living there.

The discussion of what the women, the poorest of the poor went through to get fed everyday, t
Carly Thompson
Average historical fiction novel set during France's second Empire and the Franco-Prussian War. Eugenie is a young woman who after falling in love with the wrong man and becoming pregnant travels from her small country town to Paris where she variously works as an artist model, a prostitute and a secretary/procurer for a brothel. The language is lush and very descriptive and I learned a lot about Paris during the time period (I didn't know that prostitution was legal and highly controlled by the ...more
The Lit Bitch
The story was convoluted by the over use of flowery prose, which leaves the reader feeling distracted and bored. I was so focused on the descriptions and language that I found myself having to go back and re-read chapters or passages to make sure I had a full grasp of what was going on. The prose was elegant and beautiful but it just took up too much of the story. Overall this story was just 'meah' for me and that is heartbreaking because the cover is beautiful and stunning in a way that the ...more
Sue Myers
Today I gave up reading this book after 169 pages. I thought I would enjoy reading this historical fiction about the Second Empire in France. Very little was historical--one could not tell what time period the Eugenie was living in. Eugenie leaves her hometown with her lover; they live an empassioned life for a few months and then Stephan sends her to Paris with the promise that he will join her. Of course he does not, the money runs out and Eugenie becomes the model for an artist and then he ...more
Alissa Watts
Jul 18, 2012 Alissa Watts rated it really liked it
I won this book on a Goodreads Giveaway, and was thrilled to get it. The book is a beautiful and engrossing journey following Eugenie, a French young woman who is inadvertently thrown into the rough streets of Paris. The book was hard to get tied to at first, with very heavily written descriptions and thick French language references (thankfully there are glossaries in the back for those of us that took Spanish instead). Once Eugenie has found her comfort in her (unfortunate) role in life, the ...more
Apr 08, 2013 Tonya rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2013-reads
Left me more than a little sad. We all love tragic stories that turn good. However, sometimes as we all know, things don't turn up roses. But something left me wanting something more in this book. I finished it, but it isn't one that is on my mind for days later, wondering about the characters, for the right reason. I just have this nagging feeling that I didn't get something from the book for a conclusion.

None of the characters connected with me. Eugénie, Odette, Stephan or Jolie. Not one. Whic
Nov 24, 2012 Georgiana rated it liked it
A very complicated historical novel about the changing role of women during the time of the Franco Prussian War. Eugenie, duped in love, pregnant, goes to Paris to find her lover. Life gets tangled from there, her daughter is placed in an orphanage and she spends a life time trying to find her while she survives the turbulent times. In some parts it reads like poetry, in other parts like history, and, still yet, parts are confusing. I think DeSanti tried to put too much into one novel. However ...more
Jul 11, 2015 Cristi rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
I struggled and struggled and made it through 80% of this novel, then out of frustration stopped to read the reviews. Turns out it wasn't just me! I join in the many readers who really tried to understand this book, but found it vague, confusing, unnecessarily flowery, and disappointing. I was really starting to wonder about my reading comprehension when I kept thinking, "what? when did he reappear? where is she? what just happened?" I would back track and try to put the pieces together, ...more
Mar 16, 2015 Nikki rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fail
I spent about 3 weeks trying to read and love this book. The premise was great, the setting was great, but I just could not read this book. The author is gifted with words, but perhaps not with the arranging thereof--some people can write vast, complex, twisting trains of thought and have them work and work deliciously, but in order to do that, you need to actually CONNECT them. Having little reveries, little disconnected wanderings through pretty prose took away from the story, and I got about ...more
Apr 06, 2015 Rachel rated it did not like it
Great title! Great cover! Not a good book.

I hated the writing. The sentence fragments. Especially.

The book was also horribly overwritten. Or should I say that the tome was filled, brimming with excessively verbose passages, and a surfeit of simile and mountainous metaphor.

The plot is vague until the end when it becomes stupid. It is either the worst history book ever or the worst novel ever, or both. This is a book that made me miss "Forever Amber", because at least that made sense.
Sarah Wagner
I guess I will have to give the author full credit for creating a vivid picture of Paris during the 1860s and during the Siege and Commune of 1870. The details provided have the ability to transport the reader back to an earlier era. However, I felt the description also obscured the plot to a degree. Eugenie's story seemed as much about the taste and texture of her times as it was about progressing the plot. This is clearly a tale for those who like description over plot, particularly since the ...more
Sep 16, 2012 Tina rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The historical background was interesting, and the author succeeded in painting a vivid picture of the era, the environment, tastes and sounds. But the story seemed to keep running off the rails because of the overuse of too much intricate detail. The story gained momentum in the last 3rd of the book, but I found the end very unsatisfying as there didn't seem to be a real resolution for Eugenie (trying to avoid spoilers).

The audio narration by Kate Reading was excellent, however, and helped a g
Oct 07, 2014 Erin rated it liked it
19th century Paris, France during the time of Louis Napoleon and the Second Empire. A young woman searching for her lover arrives in Paris and takes us into bright hotels, dark alleys, artist studios and into battle with the Prussians. I will say that the author really captured the essence and atmosphere of this time period. I must admit though that I was engaged for about 3/4 of the book but then felt impatient to get it over with. But I did then like the ending and wonder if there is perhaps a ...more
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Carole DeSanti is a longtime book editor and champion of new voices in fiction. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and the Women's Review of Books.
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