Nicholas Brealey Publishing, £9.99, ISBN 978-1-85788-597-2
In 2009, Eloisa James – if you read romance novels, you may have heard of her; she’s supposed to be the smartest romance author in the universe or something like that – packed up her husband and her teenage brats in a big suitcase, and headed over to Paris for a year of… well, just living and being. Ms James had a breast removed due to cancer, and, after waiting and realizing that the Hallmark moments of profound self discovery (preferably backed by a sunset that shows off the author’s profile in the most flattering manner) wouldn’t magically come on their own, decided to do something that she’s never done before. Both her husband and she took a year off from work and immersed themselves into everything Parisian. Of course, the fact that only her husband could speak French was no setback, and not even discovering after two months that they had been using only salt on the dishwater was a hindrance.
What, you think my synopsis sounds horribly callous for a book about a breast cancer survivor? Don’t worry, Eloisa James adopts the same tone in this memoir of hers. She doesn’t want to evoke sympathy or change anyone’s life, and she doesn’t want anyone playing an orchestra of violins and tin whistles on her behalf. Paris in Love is all about the author offering anecdotes of what she and her family went through in Paris, and it’s a riot. The author always has a sense of humor, of course, but she has never let her hair hang down, so to speak, in those historical romance stories of hers the way she does in this one.
Incidentally, I understand from the introduction that the anecdotes here were first posted on the author’s Facebook during her sojourn in Paris, although they had been revised and some were expanded for publication. This explains the disjointed nature of the whole thing – they really do seem like short Facebook posts. Not that it matters to me, as they make me smile and, even, laugh out loud. The fragmented nature of the anecdotes, and how some of them don’t offer any actual closure, may not appeal to some readers, though. Just know that this is not an autobiography as much as it is a collection of Facebook posts.
Paris in Love isn’t all about laughter, though. While the author doesn’t set out to offer life-changing messages, there are some very beautifully written Facebook equivalents to elegies here, to both life and death. The author’s musing on the past, her children, and her husband can be both sweet and melancholic. In many ways, this is the most romantic book I’ve read so far from this author.
In some ways, I have a little bit of regret that I’ve read this book, because the intimate glimpse into the author’s life and heart may make it hard for me to bring out the surgical instruments for her romance novels. But the bigger part of me is glad that I’ve had the opportunity to read this thing. This book offers a calming kind of comfort that life’s many experiences can be put into such exquisitely sensitive perspective. It makes me feel that, if I put in some effort and time, I too can feel, or at least sound, all profound and zen and artistic about having made lemonades all out of all those lemons life throws my way!