Did you know that all paperbacks are not created equal? Some of them have really tight spines that you have to fight to open and keep open. Others, stay open but that’s the only page they ever want to show you. If you are eating lunch while you are reading, most paperbacks require that you take a time out while you handle your cutlery.
Paris: The Novel by Edward Rutherfurd? The perfect paperback. The pages fall open where you need them to, the spine didn’t crack once and if I wanted to eat a meal while I read it? I could lay it open on the table like a hardcover.
But the paperback perfection of this novel was only one reason to love it.
Perhaps you have already read some of Rutherfurd’s other novels. He’s responsible for the Princes of Ireland (which I have not read) as well as the city novels of New York, and London. His city novels follow the histories of five local families as they love and live amid the historic events of their locale. You zip back and forwards in time, filling in familial details and personages, until in the end, you have the full picture.
I enjoyed New York, I loved London but Paris might just be my favourite.
In this one we follow the fortunes of the Blanchard, de Cygne, Renard, Le Sourd and Gascon families as they navigate the streets of Paris throughout history. Normally, Rutherfurd moves us mostly forward, checking in with the families every generation or so.
This time, we moved back and forth in time. But when we moved forward we picked up more or less where we had left off, give or take 5-15 years. I found that this made for a more fluid story. When we shot back 500 years, I knew that we would eventually end up back with the characters that I had become so attached to.
There are no perfect characters in this book and I appreciate that each character struggles to make the right choices, and don’t always do that. They are products of their time and while history may show that they were on the wrong side of things, in that moment, it seems right.
Rutherfurd also incorporates real life characters into his story. Suddenly you’re spending time with Monsieur Eiffel, Coco Chanel, Monet and the Sun King and it’s pretty great.
The scope of the story is too great to give any real details here. Suffice it to say, you will enjoy it.
One tiny little issue that I may have had with this book? The theme of every family seemed to be “have a boy to carry on the family name” and while I’m sure that that was indeed the view and goal of most families at the time, it took a long time for us to get to the point where there were fully formed female characters. Eventually there are Louise, Marie and Claire but that’s probably only the case for the last third of the book. Before that, the women in the book are brood mares, their only role to have children and be a sounding board for their husband’s life decisions.
But other than that, spending time in Paris was a delight.