Paris by the Book- Liam Callanan
This book is many things- a mystery, a story of grief and a coming of age tale of two teenage girls. What is most remarkable is that a male author is using a female voice. This is not always done well, but Callanan captures the nuances of Leah, a woman who “loses”her husband and finds a new life owning a bookstore in Paris.
This “lost” husband, Robert is a super-duper dad and a writer/professor. The mystery part of this novel is how he comes to be lost and how a surprise manuscript of his comes so closely to imitating real life. It’s a bit unnerving. The secrets of this seemingly happy marriage is revealed a little at a time while mixed in with wonderful scenes of Paris, the cuisine, books and art. The juxtaposition holds your attention.
There are lots of girls in this novel. First, you have Ellie and Daphne, the daughters of Robert and Leah, who are attempting to come to grips with their father’s disappearance. They are great characters with a wide range of teenage girl emotions. There is also Madeline, as in Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline, the series with the 12 little girls lined up in two rows. This series is important to Robert, and he reads all the Madeline books to his girls over and over. It’s like Madeline becomes a character in her own right in this novel. The girls know the stories intimately, and once they are living in Paris they begin visiting places from the Madeline stories as well as from Belemans’s life. They are certain they will find clues to explain their father’s disappearance, or better yet, just find their dad.
The insertion of Madeline in the plot delighted me because Madeline is special at our house too. Years ago, my daughter, Ellie danced the lead of Madeline in a musical adaption of Madeline and the Gypsies. For several months, we had Madeline living at our house! Just ask Ellie’s younger brother! At the time, he accused me of “not caring about anything but Ellie dancing Madeline.” We laugh about it now!
Francophiles will love walking the streets of Paris in this novel. Callanan makes Paris come alive with his descriptions of the food, the architecture, the smells, the weather. Book lovers will love the descriptions of the book store Leah owns. She only sells books of dead authors which is rather unusual. Callanan makes full use of the classics on the store shelves. You might find yourself reading one or two classics afterwards. This will be a fun book club selection because there is so much to talk about over a glass of French rose and crudites.
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