The Space Between Words by Michèle Phoenix (review)

thespacebetweenwords_phoenix_thnelsonI expect two things from a Michèle Phoenix book, though granted this is based on having only read last year’s Of Stillness and Storm (review), gorgeous prose and a compelling story.  The Space Between Words has both in spades.

I tried not to see the French flags hanging from windows, the flowers and candles and notes piled high on the Place de la Réunion.  But there was no ignoring the alterations in this post-attack France.  The buildings and shops and cafés hadn’t changed, but the air around them felt fragile–almost brittle–with the wounded disbelief of the French spirit. (p.49)

Having survived a terror attack in a Paris club, American tourists Jessica and Patrick make their way to a B&B in the country.  As the narrator, we see this through Jessica’s eyes as they go picking, what Patrick calls digging for gold, and find an antique sewing box that leads to a bit of a mystery.

We matched the soldiers’ weaponry with zeal, their threats with desperation. We fought for our survival as they fought for our submission, some of us without conscience. Without mercy. Without God. (Adeline Baillard, p.2)

With the assistance of the family that runs the B&B, Jessica works to understand the journal pages discovered in the box as well as discover the fate of Adeline Baillard and her family.  It is through and because of the journal that Jessica learns about the persecution of the Huguenots in 17th century France and begins to identify her own ability to more than just survive with uncovering the survival of the Baillards.

After the torturous moment when reality resurged, my mind retreated into blankness and surfaced only gradually again.  I felt its fits and starts like an actor and a spectator–overwhelmed and disengaged, consumed and removed.  It was a schizophrenic lurching re-emergence in which pain and apathy wrested for control. Apathy soothed pain, and pain jarred apathy.

There were seconds–just seconds–as my eyes opened after sleep when the world felt enshrouded again.  Then memory maimed. (p.82)

This is a story about different forms of grief, trauma, and friendship with a bit of divine intervention.  What could seem like a series of coincidence and serendipity are very much what Mona, the B&B’s owner, would describe as God layering good over the bad.

“It’s what he does.  And the more of the bad life dishes out, the more good God dishes out too.  We just get so blinded–legitimately–by what hurts that we can’t see the good brightening the dark.” (p.240)

The friendship between Jessica and Patrick is a bright spot in this novel, as are Mona and her family, with moments that lighten the mood being provided primarily by Patrick and five year old Connor.  Patrick in particular was an unexpected delight of a character.


“Don’t say it.”

“It’s the freakin’ Taj Mahal of exquisite excrement.” (p.63)

This is a novel that engaged my heart as well as my intellect.  Immersive, devastating, and ultimately hopeful, both the pursuit to find the ultimate fate of Adeline Baillard’s family and Jessica’s post trauma experiences all add up to what will, as with Phoenix’s previous novel, likely be one of my most powerful reads this year.

The Space Between Words by Michèle Phoenix | Thomas Nelson, Nov 2017 | Paperback, 312 pages

This review refers to a finished copy I voluntarily received through Thomas Nelson and Zondervan’s Fiction Guild.  All opinions expressed are my own.

From the Publisher:

“There were seconds, when I woke, when the world felt unshrouded. Then memory returned.”

When Jessica regains consciousness in a French hospital on the day after the Paris attacks, all she can think of is fleeing the site of the horror she survived. But Patrick, the steadfast friend who hasn’t left her side, urges her to reconsider her decision. Worn down by his insistence, she reluctantly agrees to follow through with the trip they’d planned before the tragedy.

“The pages found you,” Patrick whispered.

“Now you need to figure out what they’re trying to say.”

During a stop at a country flea market, Jessica finds a faded document concealed in an antique. As new friends help her to translate the archaic French, they uncover the story of Adeline Baillard, a young woman who lived centuries before—her faith condemned, her life endangered, her community decimated by the Huguenot persecution.

“I write for our descendants, for those who will not understand the cost of our survival.”

Determined to learn the Baillard family’s fate, Jessica retraces their flight from France to England, spurred on by a need she doesn’t understand.

Could this stranger who lived three hundred years before hold the key to Jessica’s survival?