Set in Paris circa 1889, Belle Epoque is the story of Maude Pichon, a penniless Breton girl who answers a newspaper advertisement ("Young women wanted for undemanding work. Propriety guaranteed.") only to find that she is to be required to work as a repoussoir, an ugly foil who enhances the beauty of rich society girls by her mere presence.
Though initially humiliated, she takes the job, and is hired by a high society countess who requires her to be a friend to her daughter Isabelle without letting her know Maude's true identity.
So begins a story of -
Well, in fact, imagine the plot of practically any chick flick and that's what you've got here. It's painfully easy to see which direction the novel is going in (betrayal, fall, rise), and it isn't an interesting one.
Somewhat ironically, I also found the characters of Belle Epoque fairly superficial; they didn't stay with me at all, and I couldn't bring myself to care about Maude or Paul or the duke or, really, anyone. It doesn't help that Maude frequently descends to Bella Swan-esque levels of self-loathing ("oh, poor ol' me, I have to go to this ball tonight, woe, woe, woe").
Belle Epoque isn't, you know, a bad book. It's just...very average.
Oh, and Ms Ross? Please learn that "disinterested" is not the same as "uninterested".