Sunday, April 14, 2013

Review: Paris in Love by Eloisa James

Having lost her mother to cancer and then beaten breast cancer herself, romance author and Shakespeare professor Eloisa James (the pen name of Mary Bly) wanted a chance to live out a dream. So she and her Italian husband, Alessandro, a fellow professor, and their two children set about winnowing down their possessions, put their suburban home on the market, took sabbaticals from their respective universities, and moved to Paris for a year. During the course of that French year, James updated her Facebook status and Tweeted about their experience living as ex-pats and it is these snippets, slightly expanded, plus a few longer vignettes that have been collected into this light memoir of their year abroad.

James offers brief snapshots of ordinary life in Paris. She's captured the way they all meet life in this foreign culture. There's the kids' adjustment to their Italian school, the challenge and struggle of learning all their subjects in another language (despite the fact that they know Italian thanks to their father), and the negotiation of the social ins and outs of a new school. She offers minute descriptions of the sights, sounds, and smells around their charming neighborhood. She rhapsodizes about the shopping and the food so readily available to them and their endless parade of welcome guests. She tells of trips to Italy to see her mother-in-law, Marina, and Milo, the dog masquerading as a  furry speed bump who once belonged to the family but now lives in Italy permanently, growing ever fatter off of delicious table scraps, and she tells of Marina's visit to them in Paris. She captures the daily existence, complete with humorous moments, thoughtful pauses, frustrations, and joys of raising a family while having the flexibility of writing and researching from anywhere in the world. That these moments are in Paris rather than in the US makes them seem slightly exotic but aside from setting, in many ways they are really universal.

Arranged chronologically, the brief paragraphs of the memoir provide a nice amuse bouche of a book. But the very nature of the frothy and delectable brief bits means there is a skimming, superficial feel to the memoir. It comes across as fleeting and insubstantial,  lacking a narrative cohesiveness and feeling sketched, unfinished in some way. I imagine that it was beyond delightful to be on the receiving end of the status updates and tweets but I just don't know that the format works in favor of a completed memoir. James is a beautiful writer though and what she has captured and describes in the short paragraphs is very much the essence of each moment. Perhaps this is better as a book to dip into and out of over a long span of time rather than reading it in one sitting. It is a tiny confection and must be approached as such.

1 comment:

  1. I read this one last year Kristen. I think I liked it a bit more than you did. Perhaps my Paris passion is stronger and so I was more forgiving? It was frothy, and the facebook update memoir did irk me somewhat, but it made me think about Paris, and sigh whistfully hoping to be there- that's a good thing, right? Although a Paris map does that too I guess....


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