26 March, 2012
Review: Paris In Love by Eloisa James
First, there's cancer. I hate cancer. I hate cancer so much I don't even like Cancer Memoirs, the exceptional Mom's Cancer aside. In the beginning chapter we discover that Eloisa James has been diagnosed with cancer a short two months after losing her mother to the disease. Furthermore, she herself adores cancer memoirs and has Inspirational Friends with cancer. Look, I gave at the cancer office (more than once) in all sorts of ways. I have Opinions about Cancer and Parenting Post Cancer or With Cancer and all of that. I can't help but bring a giant boxcar of baggage to any cancer book and that is one of the reasons I don't read them.
Secondly, there's Facebook. (I don't dislike Facebook as much as cancer. Given a choice between eradicating Facebook and eradicating cancer I would totally choose to end cancer. Most days.) Paris In Love is not a wholly original work. James has retooled her Facebook entries into quick snippets of experience assembled into chapters and interspersed with a few multi page transitions. Wait, you might be asking, if I buy this book I'm essentially getting a curated version of the author's Facebook wall? Yes. You are.
Thirdly, my class issues are triggered. Like Eloisa James, I was not raised in anything like affluence. Like Eloisa James I can travel Europe pretty much at will now and I could also live as an expatriate if I so desired. I think this is the sort of thing that must be acknowledged as it is a deeply abnormal life. Most of America cannot sell their home, live without strong financial concerns in Paris for a year, then return to purchase a property in New York City. (Actually, I can't purchase a property in New York City. Fiscal advantage James.) That's pretty 5% at the bare minimum. The sheer lack of logistics in Paris In Love throws this into sharp focus. Due to the snippet nature of it's telling, there are no practicalities. Nothing on how to find the Paris apartment or acquire the proper paperwork. I wasn't looking for a How To Guide, but some nod to the intricacies would have been welcome. After all, she includes several pages of her favorite shops at the end.
Once I got past judging Paris In Love for what it wasn't, I got around to judging it for what it was. James does not value stability in the same way I do. To me, taking tweenage children (who have recently lost their grandmother then had their mother threatened by the same disease) to a country where they do not speak the language and will almost certainly struggle in the schools is unthinkable. Military obligations aside, the tweenage years are not generally served by upheaval. With the snippet style of recollection, the family life comes across as the things they saw, the things they ate, the homeless they encountered, and the meetings with teachers. While the children eventually adapt, they do so just in time to relocate once again. (I am sure their trilingual abilities will serve them in life, I am sure the breadth of experience they have gained will only benefit. Void where prohibited by law, etc.)
James' way with descriptions and eye for interesting detail save the book from complete tedium. While she makes no revelations about her self or life on the bigger scale her observations of lunch remain compelling enough to keep the pages turning. Paris In Love could be summed up with "I felt lost. I ran away. The hairdressers didn't understand me. The kids were confused. I calmed down. I came back." But I see Paris In Love speaking strongly to a different reader, a reader who wants to sit and dream on a rainy day about a different life. A reader who wonders what it would be like to just toss her cares aside for a year and reinvent herself in another place, without losing the things she loves in her current place. As a wistful daydream Paris In Love works well. I'm just not a daydream kind of girl.