Saturday, November 28, 2020

The Paris Hours

Title:  The Paris Hours
Author:  Alex George
Publication Information:  Flatiron Books. 2020. 272 pages.
ISBN:  125030718X / 978-1250307187

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

Opening Sentence:  "The Armenian works by the light of a single candle."

Favorite Quote:  "'Never underestimate your memories, monsieur,' she tells him. 'They can be ferocious if left unguarded.'"

One day in 1927 in the city of Paris. One day. Four lives. Some connected. Some not. Some tangentially connected. Some connected in ways not revealed until the very end. Camille is a wife and a mother who hides a life altering secret. Jean-Paul mourns a wife and a child. Guillaume needs escape. Souren is a refugee who cannot outrun the images of his past.

The book traverses between their four stories through the course of one day, a day with a dramatic conclusion. This book is more like reading four interconnected novellas. The fact that there are four stories introduces a lot of characters. The fact that the book goes jumps from one to the other chapter to chapter at times makes the book very challenging to follow especially since some the characters do connect. 

The individual characters and their tales are engaging. Two are particularly heartbreaking. The jumps from character to character draw me away from the emotion of any given story.

Camille's story is the base as she is depicted as the maid of Marcel Proust. Marcel Proust had a real maid named Céleste Albaret, who was known to be completely and absolutely devoted to him. The history goes that upon her employer's request, she burned all of his notebooks documenting his unpublished works. Camille's story in this book picks up on the idea of what might have happened if not all the notebooks were burned. However, the story is not that of a found literary gem but rather Camille's fear that the notebook reveals her story. The author's note does clearly state that this book is pure fiction based on just that kernel of an idea.

The book does, however, use a number of historical figures - Marcel Proust, Josephine Baker, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein. However, the book in no way claims or purports to be historical fiction. As such, the use of the historical figures as integral characters in the story appear more name dropping than anything else. At times, it leaves me wondering why this story about "ordinary" people brings in the big names.

The dramatic ending to the book does bring all the stories to the same point at the same time. However, not all the stories reach a conclusion. One story introduces a tragic element that is not brought out previously. Two of the stories connect in a dramatic way, but the connection is left hanging at the end.

So, I wanted to love this book. However, it uses historical figures but is not historical fiction. It tells intermingled stories that do not completely connect and come together. I am not sure I quite understand. My favorite thought of the book is perhaps the start of the author's note. "One of the joys of writing [in my case, reading] novels is all the travel. Not actual travel, mind you, but the journeys you get to take in your imagination." That is an idea I whole heartedly agree with. Unfortunately, I wish the path of this book and story had been clearer.

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

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