Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Paris by the Book

Title:  Paris by the Book
Author:  Liam Callanan
Publication Information:  Dutton. 2018. 368 pages.
ISBN:  1101986271 / 978-1101986271

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Once a week, I chase men who are not my husband."

Favorite Quote:  "Stories provide a form, a mold. And a good story, one that's retold for generations, demands you pour the messy contents of your own life into it to see what happens as it hardens and sets."

A love affair with Paris. A bookstore. Two children's classics. A family. A mystery of a disappearing husband. This book sounds perfect for me. Unfortunately, upon reading, the book feels like a missed opportunity and leaves me wanting more.

Leah's dream has been Paris for as long as she can remember. She meets Robert Eady; their relationship begins because of a book set in Paris. Robert makes Leah's dream seem achievable. They marry. Years go by, and the dream seems more and more remote. Robert and Leah continue life in Wisconsin, raising their two daughters. Over the years, Robert tends to disappear for a few days, but he always returns. Leah accepts this. They call these days "writeaways," and they keep going.

Then, one day, Robert does not return. What Leah finds instead is tickets to Paris. She takes the girls and goes. Paris brings new clues as to Robert's whereabouts. Paris also brings ... well ... Paris, Leah's dream. Even in her search for Robert, Leah begins to build a new life, but is it quite what she dreamt about?

The ending is somewhat of a surprise, but, by that point, I am not sure I care. This story, for me, stops short of being believable. Leah and Robert stop short of being believable. Perhaps because so much is left unexplored. Robert has on and off disappeared for years, but no conversation really occurred between them about this. Things - a home, a job, a visa, friends - work out just so for Leah in Paris.

For me, the emotions - grief, abandonment, love - are described but not felt. Robert is not in the book enough to become real. The characters of the two daughters seem more interesting. However, this is not their story; it is Leah's. I just don't vest in her story. I keep going until the very end hoping for an "a-ha" moment, but unfortunately, it does not come.

The most intriguing part of the book for me is the fact that the path Leah and Robert travel is based on two children's classics - two books with very different depictions and interpretations of the city of Paris. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans was published in 1958. The story endures to this day. It presents an endearing heroine and a charming view of Paris with its drawn illustrations. The Red Balloon by Albert Lamorisse was published in 1957; it was a tie in to a short film produced by Albert Lamorisse in 1956. The book used frames from the film to provide the photographic background to the book. The story itself and the mostly black and white images provide a much darker and bleaker image of Paris.

A central theme to Leah and Robert's story is that one prefers Bemelmans' Paris while the other is more drawn to the Lamorisse images. This theme repeats again and again throughout this story and becomes my biggest take away. I find myself reaching for my copies of the classics and rereading.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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