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The Paper Palace

Written by: Miranda Cowley Heller
Narrated by: Nan McNamara
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Publisher's Summary

Reese's Book Club Pick

“A magnificent page-turner...as intoxicating as a summer night by the sea.” (Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, New York Times best-selling author of Good Company)

"It's been ages since I was so absorbed in a contemporary novel. I loved it." (Nick Hornby, New York Times best-selling author of Just Like You)

"A soulful debut that plumbs the depths of a midlife Sophie’s Choice." (People)

A story of summer, secrets, love, and lies: in the course of a singular day on Cape Cod, one woman must make a life-changing decision that has been brewing for decades.

“This house, this place, knows all my secrets.”

It is a perfect July morning, and Elle, a 50-year-old happily married mother of three, awakens at “The Paper Palace” - the family summer place which she has visited every summer of her life. But this morning is different: Last night Elle and her oldest friend, Jonas, crept out the back door into the darkness and had sex with each other for the first time, all while their spouses chatted away inside. Now, over the next 24 hours, Elle will have to decide between the life she has made with her genuinely beloved husband, Peter, and the life she always imagined she would have had with her childhood love, Jonas, if a tragic event hadn’t forever changed the course of their lives. As Heller colors in the experiences that have led Elle to this day, we arrive at her ultimate decision with all its complexity. Tender yet devastating, The Paper Palace considers the tensions between desire and dignity, the legacies of abuse, and the crimes and misdemeanors of families.    

©2021 Miranda Cowley Heller (P)2021 Penguin Audio

What the critics say

"Captivating debut...full of lush atmospheric details. This will keep the reader guessing all the way to the end.” (Publishers Weekly)

“The moody and atmospheric setting of the shadowy paths and ponds of the Back Woods is described in lush detail that makes a sharp contrast to the colder, sharper elements of Elle’s story.... From the first pages of her debut novel, Heller pulls no punches. Some of them just sneak up on you later on.” (Kirkus)

"Tightly woven and immediate, The Paper Palace takes us deep into a vivid summer landscape, a family, and a private, longstanding love story, and holds us there from start to finish." (Meg Wolitzer, New York Times best-selling author of The Interestings and The Female Persuasion)

Editorial Review

Get caught up in the emotional dilemma that is The Paper Palace—an evocative and deep look into the paths and decisions in life that make us who we are.

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller tells the story of Elle and her secret affair with childhood friend Jonas. The problem, of course, is her husband Peter. The entire story takes place in one day on Cape Cod, with a number of poignant flashbacks, making for an emotion-filled can't-pause love triangle and journey of self-discovery.

Heller's debut novel is a marvel of storytelling, weaving desire, obligation, loyalty and love into one complex and expertly delivered tale. A Reese Witherspoon book club pick, New York Times best seller, and acclaimed first novel, The Paper Palace is a true triumph of literary fiction. Elle Bishop is a compelling and sympathetic main character, even as she is flawed and actively has an affair. This love story is not at all sugarcoated, but dives into the gritty reality of life—even a life well lived—without shying away from heavy topics like sexual abuse and childhood trauma. Elle's life is at once unique and relatable, showing the talent and nuanced nature of the author.

The story is also wonderfully told by narrator Nan McNamara, who reads with a purposeful yet soft voice that pairs beautifully with the story's tone. This audiobook is a perfect addition for any women's fiction lover looking for a heartfelt, emotion-filled story of difficult choices, heartache and will. Widely named one of the best books of 2021, this unexpected tale will have listeners gripped right until the nail-biting, heart-wrenching end.

What listeners say about The Paper Palace

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

This book needed a trigger warning

I was hoping for a romantic coming of age story, with family drama and conflict. But there is an entire section of this story that I could have done without hearing in so much disturbing detail. What happens in this story is just awful, and I wish that this book had a trigger warning for sexual violence, which is what some online and radio programs offer viewers/listeners. If I had known this story was going where it went I would never have listened to it. However, the narration is strong, and engaging. The overarching story is good enough to have kept me wanting to finish the book.

12 people found this helpful

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Love, abuse, regret

There is a lot of description here. I am glad I got the audiobook because it would have probably taken me much longer to get through reading the book. The plot moved slower for me at the beginning. There are a lot of characters from past and present. It was too much for me to keep up at times. It took me a while to get into the story.

I found Wallace to be the most compelling character. She yawns before saying something unpleasant and gossips a whole lot. My favourite line from her is when she talks smack about Jonas’ wife Gina: ‘Always prancing around as if she thinks she’s the cat’s pajamas.’ I didn’t even know what it meant, but I found it to be hilarious.

The book was not what I expected and is definitely out of my comfort zone. I am still glad I listened to it. I expected more of a present day storyline with drama and more spice about the affair. The story basically unfolds Eleanor’s past and why her and Jonas (her childhood friend/ love of her life) never ended up together. It is still an interesting story, but also a little too dark for me at times.

⚠️ There is a rape scene and much reference to sexual abuse.

8 people found this helpful

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Be warned!

Something positive?
The author writes beautifully.
The narrator is great.
That’s it. The content is a nightmare! With no warning whatsoever, we are told about a little girl and a little boy being humiliated sexually. This happens in front of the very woman who gave birth to these precious babies and you don’t want me to expound on the next little “ episode “
I promise. I got part way into the third chapter and went and took a shower. Filthy, beyond abuse. The end.

5 people found this helpful

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Read on a whim

This book was a nice break from the Victorian era literature I've been reading all year. I would like to read more from this author eventually. The characters provoked many feelings, which is a good sign. The story did jump forward and backward throughout but it managed to make sense. Yes, it contained incidences/topics that may be upsetting to some. I found it was written in a way that did not dwell on those incidences. I related to lots of the vintage descriptions which added to the charm for me.

2 people found this helpful

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Amazed this was published!

Apparently, you can just write about nothing for half a book & get published. Couldn’t finish this…soooo slow, not much of a story & ridiculous when it does finally reveal itself. How the heck is this part of Reese’s Book Club??!! Don’t waste your precious time is my opinion

2 people found this helpful

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Sex

Mostly about sex and it got tiresome. Good narrator but not into this kind of story.

1 person found this helpful

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Cringe worthly - warning for incest, assault and abuse

Not sure how this book has positive reviews. There are some seriously cringe worthy parts in this book that go into unnecessary detail. Could not finish it.

1 person found this helpful

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Trigger warning!

This book was pretty good but can bring up some significant feelings in regards to childhood abuse of all kinds. I don’t think the author had the character deal with the significance of it all. It wasn’t what I expected.

1 person found this helpful

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Boring as hell

Nothing happens with this story, is really dull and the dialogues are absolutely flat and annoying.

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Great story

I don’t know what I was exactly expecting when going into this book but wasn’t what I thought . Very great well rounded story - great narrative . Loved it

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  • DTurek
  • 2021-07-14

The story has too much child abuse discription

Listed as a best seller; too much child abuse and discription for my taste - sorry I started it.

68 people found this helpful

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  • Love2Read
  • 2021-07-12

Dnf

Dnf’d this title due to some unexpected gross content regarding sexual abuse of children. I wish I could figure out how to return it.

57 people found this helpful

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  • Melody
  • 2021-07-15

Predictable and Boring

I was extremely disappointed by the predictability of this story. It’s the same old tired story of soulmates allowing childhood tragedy to keep them apart, and then regretting that decision when they are older. The main character is so immature, naive and childish that I can’t picture her in my head because she’s supposed to be 50 years old. All I can see is a dumb, arrogant, entitled teenager. She’s selfish, self absorbed and completely un-likable. The story is so full of stereotypical and superficial female tropes that I have a hard time believing the author is really a woman since she doesn’t seem to be able to write about them in any meaningful way. The only good thing I can say about this audio book is that the narrator preforms it beautifully.

44 people found this helpful

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  • LD
  • 2021-07-13

Not what I thought

I can not get through the first chapter. The language is not what I expected. I would like a refund.

35 people found this helpful

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  • Sasha Harper
  • 2021-07-21

Crude

I wish I had returned this book. I would not recommend it. The characters are crude & the story is crude. I do not enjoy listening to peoples bathroom habits.

27 people found this helpful

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  • Collier
  • 2021-07-07

An Astonishingly Novel

A brilliant and beautifully written book of a complicated family, and the traumas and triumphs of one woman. Stunning.

21 people found this helpful

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  • Bitten and Seven Are The Best Kitties In Heaven
  • 2021-07-24

Not what was promised and painful

This book has no resemblance to the book described above.
Within the first two chapters there is sexual violence and depravity and it is not addressed gently or with empathy.
I kept reading though, then your dropping a live alligator that has been the family pet for a good while down a toilet.... and I’m done.
Just why?
I think this book is the best possible example of the total disconnect people (even talented authors) have from their own humanity, their own empathy.
What intention lies behind disturbing and upsetting people, just to go for the lowest hanging fruit. Human emotion. This author has great potential but this book does not.
Skip it.
And PS THIS IS THE LAST TIME I TRUST REESE WITHERSPOON’S Sunshine cluster F I’m so over it.
Save your $$$

20 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Gary & Jay
  • 2021-07-18

Gorgeous prose!

But it's like Audre Lorde wrote a poem about cockroaches.

I found myself inside the hearts, minds and souls of superannuated 14-year olds. From generation to generation, this family, with all its extensions, had only one principle: I won't grow up!

Elle, at the brink of menopause, in all her discontent with her privilege, her loving family and secure homes, decides to embark on a new life with her best friend of all time after they screwed once in the yard while everyone else was occupied.

Why? Well, he's the one that knows all of her crimes and misdemeanors because he was present for the worst of them, and because she refuses to confide in anyone else. Because her gem of a husband happened to flash onto what was happening and was a bit impolite to her afterward, so she figured it was over. Because her kids , don't really count.

The writing is like nothing I've read in a long time, but I need more. I need to feel for the characters, and in this novel I just couldn't.

19 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2021-07-25

I hated this book!

I stopped listening after the awful child abuse. Don’t waste your money or credit. It was truly disturbing.

17 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Janice B Dorman
  • 2021-07-19

Nannyd1944@aol.com

filthy did not listen to aii.Aren’t there any decent books to read anymore, had I known this I would not have purchased this book.

16 people found this helpful