There are many memoirs of Paris, but this one is unusual. Written by a bestselling writer of romance novels, it's simultaneously lyrical, cheeky, and utterly matter-of-fact. Although I don't enjoy the author's Regency romances, I thought it was fitting that a romance writer should write a modern memoir about the most romantic of cities—Paris. I wasn't disappointed: I fell in love with the book and its author.
I should probably mention that in real life, outside her romance-writing gig, the author bears another name—Mary Bly—and is a Shakespeare professor. In her introduction, she explains that her decision to relocate to Paris for a year crystallized after her bout with breast cancer. She took a sabbatical from both her careers—teaching university and writing romances—and moved with her husband and two children, ages 11 and 15, to Paris. During her year in Paris, she wrote multiple short posts on Facebook, an informal journal of sorts, and these entries, organized and cleaned up, formed the bulk of this memoir.
The main theme of the book is the joy of life. Whatever the brief entries are about—the children's struggles with French or gastronomical delights, the rainy weather or Parisiennes' flair for fashion, tiny museums off the tourist path or the homeless of Paris—they all brim with humor and sensitivity. Everything the author sees or hears makes her glad to be alive, and she shares her gladness with her friends.
As I read her vivid descriptions, I felt as if I were in Paris too. I followed the heroine on her everyday's small adventures, savored the unfamiliar dishes alongside her, and admired the centuries-old architecture. I lived vicariously through the keen observations of a marvelous writer.
Here she lusted after someone's stylish bag, and I recognized myself. There she selected a new lacy bra in a boutique or enjoyed a dessert whose French name sounded heavenly and whose description made me salivate. On the next page, she might include a heart-wrenching essay on the death of her friend or her musing about the French's propensity for kissing.
Although the details and events of the book are often mundane, seemingly insignificant, it was hard for me to put the book down. I hankered for more. I wanted to know what happened next: the next day, the next street, the next encounter, the next escapade of her precocious daughter of her mother-in-law's absurdly obese dog.
Laughter was a gift of this book. The author makes fun of everyone, but her prime target is invariably herself. Her irony is never offensive, always tasteful, intertwined with kindness, and her love for her family gleams off the pages. The language, on the surface deceptively simple, is rich and expressive, and her metaphors astoundingly graphic.
Overall impression: a lovely book; charming, alluring, poignant, and extremely funny.
Read an excerpt from this book.
New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James writes historical romances for HarperCollins. In her alter life as Mary Bly, she is a Shakespeare professor at Fordham University in New York. She's the mother of two children and, in a particularly delicious irony for a romance writer, is married to a genuine Italian knight. Visit her website.
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