The Light of Paris
In this beautifully braided story, modern-day Madeleine discovers her grandmother Margie’s diary, only to see her grandmother suddenly in, well, a new light. Decades earlier, Margie, abandoned by the young relative she was supposed to chaperone, found herself navigating Paris all on her own—and falling further for Paris with every step. That Brown was inspired to write this book by her own grandmother’s adventures in 1920s Paris only adds to the resonant pleasures of this book.
The Dud Avocado
The only dud about this 1958 novel is, for me, the title. It refers to one Sally Jay Gorce, the book’s 20-something narrator, who’s anything but a dud. Gorce’s romp through Paris (and various neighboring geographies) is frequently funny, occasionally moving, and steadily zany. Modern reviewers compare her to Bridget Jones or Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City, and there’s plenty of sex and eye-rolling and men behaving ineptly. It should all lead to the readerly equivalent of a hangover, but—with the exception of that title—none of it feels forced. Dundy’s Gorce is both vital and vulnerable and surveys Paris with an eviscerating eye that spares no one—least of all herself.
The Collected Stories
Gallant’s short stories of Paris often read like novels; in just a few pages, she can conjure entire lives, histories so indelible they seem more fact than fiction. Hers is the literature of gesture, of the unspoken, of Paris as its own implacable character. Gallant, born in Canada, moved to Paris in the early 1950s on her own after her husband, a WWII veteran, declared he never wanted to set foot in Europe again. They divorced; she never remarried. Many of her stories are about waiting, but also about survival, and how surviving in Paris—as Gallant did for more than 60 years, not a few of them lean—is a triumph, no matter how one’s life appears to those looking on. Don’t stop at one story. Read them all. And read her interviews, too; no one is more bracingly direct on the subject of writing, of love, of Paris.
The Paris Wife
It’s hard to write about Hemingway—or worse, write like Hemingway—without the result coming off like caricature. But McLain’s novel about Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, doesn’t ring a false note. McLain’s Hemingway sounds just like Hemingway should (though slightly less tiresome). What’s more, her Hadley, who narrates the novel, sounds fully alive as well. Hadley was at Hemingway’s side during his early Paris years and his earliest successes (and failures) as a writer. She’s famously remembered as the woman who tucked all of Hemingway’s manuscripts into a valise and then lost them on a train from Paris to Geneva in 1922. It was a terrible loss, though it’s hard to finish the book and not think the loss of this first marriage (they divorced in 1927) all the greater.
Paris by the Book
My novel, Paris by the Book, is about dreams. Paris dreams, life dreams, family dreams, and what happens when those dreams conflict with reality. The novel’s narrator, Leah, has long dreamed of visiting Paris, but it’s not until her husband disappears that she finds herself in France, thanks to an odd clue he left behind. With her two daughters in tow, they scour the city in search of him. As the family settles into their new Parisian life, they can’t help but trace the literary paths of some beloved Parisian classics, including Madeline and The Red Balloon, hoping more clues arise. But a series of startling discoveries forces Leah to consider that she may not be ready for what solving this mystery might do to her family—and the Paris she thought she knew.
Like many readers—and like the narrator of my new novel, Paris by the Book—long before I traveled to Paris by train or plane, I went there by book. And I went as often as I could. Starting with the companion book to Albert Lamorisse’s classic children’s film, The Red Balloon, I visited Paris year after year after year.
I’ve been lucky enough now to travel to Paris many times (though never, alas, by balloon), but I still visit whenever I can through the pages of a book. Sometimes I go the nonfiction route—I have a profound weakness for Paris memoirs, even though almost all of them end with the author leaving France—and sometimes I take the fiction express. Whichever way I go, though, I’m always surprised anew by the Paris I discover.
Featured Image: Léonard Cotte/Unsplash; Author Photo: Patrick Manning