For fans of Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things and Pip Williams’ The Dictionary of Lost Words,The Natural History of Love is based upon the true story of 19th century French explorer, naturalist and diploma the Count de Castelnau and his lover Madame Fonçeca; a sweeping historical narrative set in the wilds of Brazil, salons of Paris and the early days of Melbourne’s settlement.
When Melbourne lawyer Nathan Smithson takes on the case of mad, wealthy Edward Fonçeca’s inheritance trial against his ruthless brother in 1902, he must unearth long-buried family secrets to have any chance of winning.
Brazil, 1852: François, the Count de Castelnau and French Consul to Bahia falls dangerously ill on a naturalist expedition and is delivered by a rainforest tribesman to the Fonçeca household. Carolina Fonçeca is 16 years old and longing to leave the confines of her family’s remote Brazilian sugar plantation. With a head full of Balzac and dreams of Parisian life, she is instantly beguiled by the middle-aged Frenchman. What Carolina doesn’t know is that François has a wife and son back in France. Desperate for a new life, she makes a decision that will haunt her forever.
Read some great reviews from our Preview readers here:
An intriguing story with strong characters made even more interesting by the fact that is based on true story. Whilst sometimes heavy going and confronting it is definitely a worthwhile read if you love historical fiction. Andrea, VIC, 5 Stars
The Natural History of Love is told through a mixture of narration and two characters diary entries. I loved how the author managed to give them all distinct voices. This is a very cleverly written imagining of a true story – I couldn’t put it down. Charlotte, WA, 5 Stars
A lovely story, well written and I couldn’t wait to finish it. Kathleen, NSW, 5 Stars
The Natural History of Love is an interesting historical novel which gives an insight into life on a plantation in Brazil, then Paris and finally Melbourne in the 19th century. Each country had its own problems and constraints that were relevant to that time and place. The main characters Francois and Carolina were an unlikely match but Carolina showed a great interest in Francois’ naturalist work and studies so they were able to share this passion together. Darwin’s “Origin of the Species” had an enormous effect on Francois and caused him great suffering as he wrestled with this revelation. I was fortunate to hear the author being interviewed on radio whilst I was reading this book. I understand that the house at Mayfield has now been demolished. I would recommend this novel to anyone who would be fascinated to learn more about these situations and cultures from a historical perspective. Anne, SA, 4 Stars
I really liked The Natural History of Love by Caroline Petit. I found the heroine engaging and a very liberal thinker for the times. Based upon the true story of 19th century explorer and naturalist, Count de Castelnau and his lover Madame de Fonceca, it is the story of their enduring love told through diary entries, newspaper articles and observations. The format is unusual but it gives you insight into the intimate thought processes of the main characters, which is a different angle. It reminded me of The Dictionary of Lost Words which I loved also. Robyn, QLD, 4 Stars
In Melbourne in the early 1900’s, a lawyer takes on an unusual inheritance dispute case. In order to defend his client, he must follow the translated diaries of the two main characters as they make their way from a chance meeting in Brazil, to Paris and finally to Australia. While based on actual people and events, this book is a work of fiction. The narrative is at times difficult to follow, however the more I read, the more comfortable I became. Tracing a fascinating time in history, with vivid description and analysis of the social norms of the time, this love story was ultimately an enjoyable read. Karina, QLD, 4 Stars
The Natural History of Love by Caroline Petit takes the reader on a sweeping journey of love through Brazil, Paris and Melbourne. Initially, we are introduced to the character of Nathan Smithson, a lawyer whose client is Edward Fonceca; the son of the novels main characters, Carolina D’Araujo Fonceca and Francois de Caumont La Port. It is the description of history in this beginning that forms the novel into a series of diary entries from these two lovers. I found that it is a beautiful way in reading the feelings and thoughts of Carolina and Francois, how they fell in love and how they made their love everlasting in the eye of expectations from society during the years of 1852 to 1901. I believe The Natural History of Love is written brilliantly and the research behind the characters is well thought through. It was great to imagine and read about explorers, naturalists and their passions. A highly recommendable book if you adore the study of the natural world and the strength of love. Raffaela, VIC, 4 Stars
I enjoyed ‘The Natural History of Love’ by Caroline Petit, a wonderful journey through the enduring love and life of Carolina and Francois. Passionate, turbulent, frustrating, often sad, but never dull. Spanning three continents it is imagined from the true story of the bitter inheritance trial between Charles and Edward, the sons of 19th century naturalist and diplomat the Count de Castelnau and his love Madame Fonceca. This book reminded me of similar historic novels I’ve enjoyed; ‘The Dictionary of Lost Words’ and ‘A Room Made of Leaves’. The story is skilfully tied together by use of the central narrator, Melbourne based lawyer, Nathan Smithson. Nathan, representing Edward in the legal battle, interviews witnesses and reads the many translated diaries of Francois and Carolina, gradually piecing together the family’s remarkable life and long kept secrets. The middle age, worldly, married, Francois and the teenage, naïve, romantic Carolina share a wonderful bond of love, intelligence, and mutual respect. It is unusually set during a period of great exploration, emerging Darwinian theories, dubious Medical breakthroughs and the lingering influence of ‘heathen’ spirituality and Catholicism. Sandra, NSW, 4 Stars
Thoroughly enjoyed this book, takes you on a ride from the first page. Beautifully written and descriptive. A must read. Paula, SA, 4 Stars
The blurb of this book did its job and made me want to read, but I found it took me a while to get through it. I usually read at night before bed and the style of this book made it a bit hard for me to follow the story properly. The author has done an amazing job with the amount of research she has put in and once I got further into it, I found the premise really interesting and got a great feel of the characters and what they were going through. Melissa, WA, 3 Stars
The Natural History of Love was a unique and interesting read but I found the layout of the book distracting which made it hard to really get into the story. I can appreciate the research that must have gone into it and did find the historical facts interesting. Susan, NSW, 3 Stars
Written from the perspective of several characters, the tale, based on a true story, explores the validity of an inheritance left to the younger mad brother Edward while disinheriting the older ruthless brother, Charles. Charles is contesting the will, Nathan Smithson, lawyer, has been engaged to protect Edward’s inheritance. To do so he must delve deep into the relationship between Charles and Edwards mother Carolina Fonçeca and François de Castelnau to discover the truth. The tale takes us from the depths of Brazil, to the salons of Paris and onto Melbourne’s early days of settlement and is an intriguing look at life in the late 1800’s early 1900’s in all these places. The tale itself is a fascinating one, however I struggled with the style of writing and as a result had difficulty engaging with it. This fault may lay with me, rather than the author, so although I would not enthusiastically recommend it I would encourage others to read and form their own view. Marcia, SA, 3 Stars
“Love conquers all” so the saying goes…..But does it? This story, based on true events, delves into the phenomenon of love and leads the reader to question legitimacy of LOVE over all other emotions AND the law of the land. There is no question that the Count and Carolina have a very strong connection. However, their relationship is often detrimental to their family and others. The author has undoubtedly researched extensively. The roles of men and women of the times, are evident in the treatment of Carolina and Anne-Beatrice, by the Count. His treatment of his sons is deplorable. The lies on which their relationship was built lead to insecurity, mistrust, disappointment, anger and complications which affect themselves and those close to them. Perhaps the underlying message is NOT that “Love conquers all” but that deceit is corrosive and secrets do not stay buried forever. Sandra, NSW, 3 Stars
An interesting read, in the format of historic diary entries curated by a narrator, telling a love story across time and place. At times, I found that it was hard to emotionally connect with the characters, but an enjoyable enough read nonetheless. Mopsy, VIC, 3 Stars
‘The Natural History of Love’ by Caroline Petit, an historical novel told in the third party in 1902 by Melbourne lawyer Nathan Smithson hired to protect mad wealthy Edward Fonceca from his vindictive brother Charles. Nathan must decipher letters diaries in another language to help his case. It takes him back to 1852 Brazil naturalist Francois, the Count de Castelnau falls ill, recovering in a sugar plantation he entrances the young daughter Carolina Fonceca with stories of Paris. She would leave with him only to find he has another wife and child in France.They marry and he is offered and accepts the French consul in Melbourne. Nature of Love we see it can see it can be good and bad, happy, and cruel sides of life regardless of your status, title wealth. A little challenging at times to follow, to help you follow the story there is a timeline and character list at the front of the book. Worth the effort to know how life was back then. BB22, QLD, 3 Stars
Lawyer Nathan Smithson takes on a disputed inheritance case between brothers Charles and Edward, in 1901 Melbourne. To make his determination, he sets out to learn about the family and reads the translated diaries of Carolina Fonçeca and François, Count de Castelnau. Carolina, a 16-year-old living on her family’s sugar plantation in Brazil, meets François, a naturalist, explorer and French consul. Carolina is determined to expand her mind and is quick to take an interest in the natural world explained by the much older François. The story is based on real people from Melbourne’s past and this is the imagined story of their lives. Diary entries, interspersed with newspaper articles, bring to life this tempestuous love affair, the families and their secrets, slavery, society of the time and the natural world they are exploring. The translated diaries have footnotes inserted by the translator, explaining many of the cultural aspects of the society, although at times these footnotes detract from the story’s flow. The story is set in Carolina’s home in Brazil, then in the salons of France and the Melbourne society of the early 1900’s. An interesting imagining of the lives of the central characters and their world. Judith, NSW, 3 Stars