13 April 2012

Paris in Love

If you've been following my Goodreads stream (if not the blog - sorry, it's catching up slowly) you'll know that I have succumbed to the call of romance novels.  I can read a 250-300 page romance novel in approximately two hours making them ideal for nights when I need to unwind after working a bookstore shift yet can't stay up all night.  Over the course of one week I read all of Eloisa James's Essex Sisters series (four books), the Desperate Duchesses series (six books), one of her Fairy Tales series (I'd already read the first two and the first novella), the second Fairy Tales novella, and the first book in the Duchess Quartet (did I mention that I didn't have to work the buttressing weekends at all?).  No judging.

I have few Eloisa novels left to read for the first time (eReaders make binge shopping/reading too easy) and to tide me over until the newest Fairy Tale novel (The Ugly Duchess, due in August) I picked up Eloisa's new memoir, Paris in Love.  In 2009 she and her Italian fellow-academic husband packed up the children, sold the house and cars, and moved to Paris for a sabbatical year.  This book is a collection of Facebook posts and tweets - little snapshots of words -  interspersed with essays musing on varying themes (French women's style, her mother, enjoying experimenting with cooking, getting the heck out of her small town, &etc).

I was expecting Eloisa to love Paris.  They way she lovingly described the dresses of her Georigan duchesses or their homes or lavish entertainments in her novels I assumed she would describe the food and fashion she would see around her.  I expected thoughts on the many museums and attractions in Paris.   I was expecting some awkward moments of culture clash (there were).  I was not expecting this book to be so funny.

It is completely unforced humor.  It's the way she recounts the relish with which her daughter describes returning the slap in a playground spat or how Anna is completely captivated with the Harry Potter series to the point that the Loire valley castles are the actual embodiment of Hogwarts and environs.  It's how she describes her teenage son Luca's hair one morning - like that of a toilet brush - or that, like any other teenager, he's trying to drive her and her husband nuts (or that they are trying to drive him nuts).  It's how her husband Alessandro (Goodreads has a short video of Eloisa and Alessandro on the Paris in Love page and for two seconds I thought she was married to Jonathan Pryce and I was massively jealous) goes to buy flowers in apology but comes back with none because there were too many to choose from.  He later buys some delectable cheese instead.  It's how she has very little good luck with colorists at hair salons for most of their stay.  It's how her Italian mother-in-law describes her "efforts" to get an extremely obese (and spoiled, let's face it) chihauha to lose weight.  And it's this tidbit on pages 58-59 that had me laughing so hard I almost fell out of my chair:
(Setup: Anna came home in tears and told her parents the math teacher mocked her division and Alessandro has gone to talk to the teacher.  He comes back with a few promises....)  [Anna] will stop chattering in class, stop forgetting to bring her homework, and will forbear from announcing (this is a direct quote) "I didn't learn to divide in my old school; they don't teach that in the States."  'Twas this last that invoked the math teacher's laughter (described by Anna as mockery), but really, one can hardly blame him.
Anna, at age ten/eleven, provides a number of wonderful, humorous moments in the book with a combination of impish glee and precocious intelligence.

In between all this are Eloisa's musings on finding her way again in this life (my phrasing, not hers).  After her mother's death from cancer and her own diagnosis (and subsequent relatively-uncomplicated treatment and recovery - alluded to in the introduction but not described in the book, this is not a cancer memoir), she enters a kind of "gray area" - she doesn't feel like a "survivor" but she also isn't quite the same person either.  The year in Paris, documented by her online posts, is the permission she gives herself to enjoy her life and her family.

I loved it.  And I'm a bit jealous - I'd never have the balls to live in a foreign country (Canada I could do and the UK, because I love all things associated with afternoon tea, but I'd be stretching my limits with anything outside of my terrible traveller's German).  I also couldn't afford it.  Perhaps I ought to have purchased a lottery ticket in the last disgustingly large drawing.

*ETA: I have just figured out that Robert Bly is her dad.  OMG.  I Googled the poem she mentions in the book - "I Have Daughters and I Have Sons" - that was published in the New Yorker during their year in Paris.


  1. I see that you are a prolific reader and lead a group at B&N. i would love to have you review my debut novel, Walking with Elephants. My website with all pertinent info is www.karensbell.com. Walking with Elephants has received excellent reviews and has been describes as Bridget Jones meets Erma Bombeck. Thanks, Karen

    1. I fail to see how this comment is pertinent to a review of Eloisa James's memoir.