Countess of Etterbeek
It is 1958, and Ben and his wife Charlotte have temporarily relocated from America to Brussels, where Ben is pursuing scientific experiments and Charlotte is taking art classes at a local college. By chance, the two make the acquaintance of a Belgian countess, and their association quickly develops into a close friendship. As Charlotte and the Countess exchange personal stories, Ben and Charlotte find themselves getting more and more fascinated with the Countess’s complicated history. Her life spans both world wars and includes fascinating tales of intrigue, sad circumstances, and even a touching love story. But then things start to turn dangerous when the Countess’s enemies do their best to strongly discourage the couple’s association with her.
With Countess of Etterbeek, author Martin Nemer has woven a fascinating tale full of love, danger, suspense, and personal tragedies. Much of the novel is written purely in dialogue, straight back-and-forth between two or more characters. Aside from the obvious question of how the Countess can remember conversations that occurred decades ago with such accuracy, this is a surprisingly effective way for this story to be told. In truth, many aspects of the Countess’s past are unbelievable, yet it all somehow manages to work, and her drama with the prince and her struggles during WWII make for an interesting read. In addition, Ben & Charlotte’s own personal history makes a fascinating backdrop against which to compare the stories of their friend. While, in my opinion, some parts of the story could have used a little work to make more passable (the scene with Marguerite the spy felt rather hurriedly written, for instance) and others could have been left out entirely (such as the entire Henri/Veronique subplot), Nemer’s first novel is enjoyable overall.
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