The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller is the story of a love triangle with main character Elle at its center. Elle loves her husband Peter and their three children; however, a sexual encounter with her childhood love Jonas makes her question which man she wants more.
Elle’s past is interspersed with present day throughout the book. Elle’s childhood is a mixture of traumatic and joyful moments. Elle and her older sister Anna are bounced around to various caregivers as kids due to their parent’s divorce. The story reviews their rocky relationship with their dad and his wives, and their relationship with their beautiful mother and her husband.
Summers at the paper palace, the name given to the small beachside cottages built by her grandfather, are the setting of some of Elle’s happiest memories. It is also the place where she endured her stepbrother’s abuse. Elle and Jonas became friends here, and forged a much deeper relationship based on shared experiences. A random meeting years after not seeing each other rekindles a friendly relationship after Elle is already with Peter.
Shared trauma, secrets and the ups and downs of family relationships along with sharp writing make this a compelling read. I rooted for the strong women characters and found myself with very mixed feelings regarding Elle’s decision.