Paris by the Book by Liam Callanan 3.5*s #review

Paris by the Book

Amazon Blurb

Some stories are still waiting to be found.

In a city of millions, it’s easy to lose someone…

Twelve weeks before Leah Eady arrived in France, her husband disappeared. Early one morning, he walked out the door and never came back. All he left behind was a scrumpled note in a cereal box, leading her to the bustling streets of Paris.

Once she arrives, she discovers a mysterious unfinished manuscript written by her husband, and set in the very same city. Hoping to uncover more clues, Leah takes over a crumbling bookshop with her two young daughters, only to realise that he might just be closer than any of them ever imagined…

…but what if he doesn’t want to be found?

 

My Review

Leah and Robert had an unconventional start to their relationship and it has be said, an equally unconventional marriage, given they had children. From their initial meeting they were drawn together by a shared love of Paris, he through his love of the Madeline novels by Ludwig Bemelmans and her through her love of the film The Red Balloon  by Albert Lamorrise.  Unfortunately they live in Wisconscin, and once married with 2 daughters, Leah’s dream of bookshops and Paris has become a pipedream. Until the day that Roberts disappears. However as Robert has a tendency to vacate himself from the marital home, with little more than a note left behind, its a while before its apparent he’s not coming back. The scribbled note finally found in a cereal packet, referring to 4 tickets to Paris being the only indication that whether temporary or permanent, it was intentional. So Leah ups sticks with her daughters Daphne and Ellie to go to Paris in search of the elusive Robert, where she is convinced he’s residing.

It’s an interesting and enticing premise for a book with a cracking opening line, ‘Once a week, I chase men who are not my husband’. It throws up several mysteries. Why has Robert disappeared, and has he really fled to Paris? Does Leah really see the links between the ‘clues’ she finds or are they all imagined? In searching for Robert, Leah introduces us to the delights of Paris. In fact the book is almost a love letter to Paris. Though I feel it’s a Paris that many of us have in our imagination rather than one founded on contemporary fact. It’s an Art House Paris of smoky bars, accordian players, bohemian stores and bookshops. Think Edith Piaf meets Henri Cartier-Bresson, it’s certainly easy to get sucked in to the atmospheric if not nostalgic portrayal.

I really wanted to love this book, and while I enjoyed it, at times I found myself more in love with Paris that the story itself. There were several reasons for this, not least of which being the premise that I failed to engage with Leah and Robert’s relationship. More because it all seemed at times like game playing, rather than real life. As the book progresses I can see that for Robert, I believe it was because he had unacknowledged mental health issues. For Leah, I can’t find extenuating reasons, for the way she drew her daughters into a chase across the other side of the world, while being less than truthful with them. It was hard at times, to see them trying to come to terms what had happened, veering as it did between grief for a lost father and anger at having been abandoned.  The other main reason was the constant references to Bemelmans and Lamorrise, for me it was overdone almost to the point of obsession. I felt the constant references slowed the progress down and didn’t add to the enjoyment. Perhaps if I had a working knowledge or interest in either it might feel less intrusive.

Despite the negatives, I was certainly engaged enough to want to find out exactly what happened. Was Robert dead as the Police had decreed, or was he really shadowing the family in Paris. That aspect of the mystery was what kept me going and thankfully there was a resolution and not one I necessarily envisaged.

If you love Paris, bookshops, complicated relationships and mysteries then this is certainly one that might appeal, but just be prepared to flip a few pages at times.

Thanks to Harper Collins for a proof copy.

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