The Paris Hours
I love the cover of this book. It is simple and striking, with a haunting quality that foreshadows the story inside.
The time is 1927, the place Paris, and the main characters four in number. There is Camille, the maid of a famous writer (Marcel Proust, fictionalized). And Souren, an Armenian refugee who puts on puppet shows in the Luxembourg Gardens. And Guillaume, a struggling, very-much-in-hock artist. And Jean-Paul, a journalist who writes about others to avoid writing about himself. Each of the four has an intricate story, told in flashback.
The Paris Hours is beautifully written. Descriptions of Paris are vivid, as are the many, many flashbacks. There is a frequent moving about in time, so if you prefer a linear story, this one may bother you. After I’d finished listening to the book, I was startled to read reviews saying that the story took place on a single day.
I hadn’t realized that! There is nothing present tense about this story. Or maybe it is a tribute to the skill of the writer that I was so invested in the early lives of these characters.
Dealing with memory and pain and survival in the turbulent years between wars, The Paris Hours isn’t an easy read. And still, I was captivated. The narrator of the audiobook was wonderful. I’m a sucker for foreign accents well done and these were. And the author weaves in real-life figures – Marcel Proust, of course, but also Earnest and Pauline Hemingway, Josephine Baker, and Gertrude Stein.
Reviewers rave about the ending. I do not. While the author does a masterful job bringing these four stories together into a single blazing climax, I found the end brutal. And yet, I’m left with thoughts of the impossibility of escaping the past, and of our eternal search for acceptance, respect, and love.
Not bad things to consider.