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The Secret Papers of Madame Olivetti (Nal Accent Novels) Paperback – October 7, 2008

30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Debut novelist Vanderbilt (yes, those Vanderbilts) charmingly wends her way through the memories of wealthy widow Lily Crisp. Lily's story spools from her beloved Olivetti typewriter at the family home in southern France. Lily recounts her travels and her life on an Idaho ranch with Paul, her husband, and his French mother. The house, inherited from her mother-in-law, and passed on to Lily after Paul's death, holds a mystery in the form of a longtime lodger who may or may not have something to do with a slowly teased out tragic secret that sits at the center of Lily and Paul's marriage. Meanwhile, a hunky handyman Lily retains admires more than Lily's typewritten remembrances. Things are slow to start, but about halfway in, the plot picks up and events past and present collide in surprising ways. The story may meander too much for some readers, but those who relish delightful prose and quirky adventuresses should be satisfied. (Oct.)
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From Booklist

In Vanderbilt’s sensuous and scenic debut novel, 50-year-old Lily Crisp leaves her home on an Idaho ranch and escapes to southern France in the hope of putting her life in perspective just two years after her beloved husband Paul’s untimely death. Spending her days basking in sunshine on a French terrace, she obsessively types her history of love and loss on an old typewriter she names Madame Olivetti. And is often happily interrupted by Yves, the strapping young handyman attracted to older women. As Lily’s past comes alive through her fingers on the keys, she begins to understand the fragility and beauty of life. Vanderbilt carefully paints a stunning portrait of love in its many forms—passionate love, married love, sexual love, familial love—set against the lush backdrops of the village on the Côte d’Azur  and the rain forest in Chiapas, Mexico. Juggling between the past and present, this emotional tale illuminates the multiple layers of a woman’s healing heart as Lily Crisp realizes that many pages of her life are yet to be written. --Annie McCormick

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Product Details

  • Series: Nal Accent Novels
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: NAL (October 7, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0451225279
  • ISBN-13: 978-0451225276
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,033,292 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

"When you write a novel in your fifties, you have more perspective on life (you hope) and can let the voluptuous side of living and loving take center stage."
--From an interview with Annie Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt began writing THE SECRET PAPERS OF MADAME OLIVETTI at the age of fifty-one, when she was one year younger than her protagonist, Lily Crisp, and worked on the novel for a decade.

She and her husband, Bill Vanderbilt, met as undergraduates at Harvard and have adventured all over the world together from the day they were married. They began in the Peace Corps in India in 1968, then backpacked to Mt. Everest Base Camp in Nepal in 1972, and managed after that to sandwich wilderness and overseas adventures into their working lives--Annie has been a carpenter, wood carver, wilderness instructor, and cross-country ski center owner/operator before turning to writing. She and Bill have also toured by bicycle through Japan, Scandinavia, Europe and New Zealand, covering a total of 12,500 miles.

Annie has faced some reversals in her life that have had a profound influence on her writing. In 1983 she fell off a cliff and struggled for 6 years to walk again. And in 2005 her house in Idaho burned to the ground, along with all of her family's possessions.

Her novel is named for the typewriter, an Olivetti Lettera 32 Portable, on which she wrote a previous book (the only existing manuscript was destroyed in the house fire). She recalls that it was laborious work writing on the antiquated typewriter, but that she became quite attached to the machine, which also was lost in the fire.

Annie Vanderbilt was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1946, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Radcliffe College, and has lived in Ketchum, Idaho, since 1982. She currently divides her time between Idaho and Sanibel Island, Florida, where she lives with her husband, fly fishes for relaxation, and is working on her second novel.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Darryl James on April 1, 2009
Format: Paperback
At the conclusion of this book the main thought traveling thru my mind was, WOW! A lump had formed in my throat, tears near ready to flow. Lily Crisp and her life's journey touched a massive amount of heartstrings and fond memories in this reader. The charming, small villages of France and Mexico to the rural regions of the mountainous western USA, the local scenery so aptly described I could sense it as if being back there again. An avid reader I am not, but with my trusty dictionary by my side to really feel and understand the prose of Ms. Vanderbilt, I found myself vicariously there, shadowing Lily along the entire way, feeling what she was feeling. The surprising ending and build up to it had me sitting on the edge of my chair. This is Annie Vanderbilts first published novel? Oh my! As we say in Hawai'i, Hana Hou!...Hana Hou! (encore!, encore!). And with that, I'm going to read it again. Kudos to Ms. Vanderbilt. WOW!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Robin S. Leavitt on October 23, 2008
Format: Paperback
I finished The Secret Papers of Madame Olivetti a few days ago. It is hard to believe this is the only book Annie Vanderbilt has published. I do hope she is working on another one, as her writing style is so smooth, I didn't want the story of end. The character of Lily Crisp is witty, warm and passionate. She made me laugh and at the same time, reflect back on my own loves and losses. What a wonderful choice for a "book club" .....or better yet, a movie.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By D. Evich on February 22, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Delightful reading that kept me captivated until the last page. Such good descriptions of the area - I could envision it so easily. Makes me want to travel there. I would have enjoyed knowing her. Definitely had a surprise ending! I read the last few chapters over & over. I would recommend this book to all romantics at heart!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Misty609 on May 31, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I don't want to just visit "La Pierre Rouge," I want to live there.

I fell in love with this place - everything about it from the terrace, the hill leading to the house, the sea, Alonso, (the cat), the food, the bakery, the market place, all of it.

I finished the book a few hours ago and cannot get the story out of my mind. It makes me want to get on a plane and go to the South of France.

I could not put this book down, and believe me, I tried to but found myself looking for excuses to pick it up again and read until I finished it. I hated to see the book end. I loved traveling to France, Mexico, Italy, Spain, and even Idaho.

I loved all the characters in the book, but, especially Lily and I loved her mother-in-law, Maman Justine - great lady. I think she and Lily had so much in common, that Justine's son, Paul, married his mother when he married Lily.

I checked this book out of the library and now want to buy a copy for myself to add to my personal library. There are descriptive phrases, quotes, words, passages that I wish to mark for future reference and, of course, I cannot do that with a library book.

I am going to recommend this book to my friends so we can enjoy a good discussion based on my own questions, and there are many, and the questions in the back of the book.

It will be fun to analyze Lily and Paul, their marriage, discussing what makes them tick, their obvious differences, etc...Yves, the handyman, is also an interesting character and I would love to analyze his relationship with his mother and talk about what happened to him, where did he go, did his mother die, lots to analyze about Yves...

I do hope Annie writes another book. I want more of Lily, more of France...I'd like to "grow old" with Lily...and be there to see how Justine grows up....Will her grandmother, Justine, come alive again through her granddaughter?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By crystalt on October 22, 2008
Format: Paperback
It's great to read a novel about a middle aged woman looking back at her loves and life instead of another tale of a twenty something in wobblingly high heels. Don't get me wrong - there's a lot of sensuality and romance in this novel as 52 year old Lily Crisp reflects on where she's going after the sudden death of her husband.
Lily, with her halo of curly hair and a mischievous gleam in her eye, was just plain fun and interesting to hang out with. Vanderbilt's sensuous imagery really transported me to all the exotic locales of Lily's life without waiting in a security line at the airport. The story takes you from a classic villa on the coast of France to lakeside Wisconsin, then Italy, from the rustic tang of an Idaho ranch to the steamy rainforests of Mexico.
I really identified with the different stages of life and love - from young passionate love to more mature married love and along the way found a lot to learn from Lily about life and how to live it.
And there's even an intriguing twist or two at the end.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Tate on March 11, 2009
Format: Kindle Edition
Intelligently conceived, deftly executed, satisfyingly concluded; who knew chick lit could be so well written?
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By J. HERRON on December 2, 2009
Format: Paperback
I was so looking forwards to reading this book, after reading all the 5-star reviews of it. And now that I've forced myself to slog through it, I say Forget It! How dull it was, random reminiscences that make no sense. With plenty of gratuitous sex that makes the characters lose all respect I might have had for them. Skip it!
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Format: Paperback
I have just finished Annie Vanderbilt's enthralling novel, The Secret Life of Madame Olivetti, for the second time, savoring again the story, the characters and the landscapes of this delightful book.
The title hints at sex and titillation, and there is plenty of that--but this is a serious and lovely work. Lily Crisp, struggling with her husband's death, writes the story of her life and family, and of his. The author passes easily from the past to the present to the long-ago past: not only Lily's own childhood, but that of long-dead grandparents, and to Italy, Idaho, France and Mexico.
Ms. Vanderbilt writes like a painter: a daub here, a touch of red there, and we see one of Lily's friends, her husband, a sister, her children, come to life. Or it may be a lover--or a cat, forever up to mischief, licking yellow canary feathers from its nose. We first meet Lily's mother-in-law, a young Frenchwoman transported to Idaho, putting her stamp on that "uncivilized piece of terrain covered with those terrible bushes," as she calls it, by planting a garden of lavender.
We understand Lily's deep love for her husband, and his for her, and mourn the discontents in their marriage. We weep with her at Paul's death, and follow her steps to recovery. Through it all, Lily retains her sense of humor, her joie de vivre, and her perspective on herself. She faces life, and the choices she makes, with open, honest, eyes.
My enthusiasm led my husband, a reader of history and biography, to "glance at" the first chapter. Once started, he was hooked.
I look forward to many more books by Annie Vanderbilt---and hope that at least one of them will be a sequel to Madame O.
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