My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars
I am torn over my rating of Alex George’s upcoming novel, The Paris Hours: A Novel, an ARC I received through Goodreads.com. The historical drama is set in 1927 in interwar Paris, a time and place that saw much creative innovation and was populated with many cultural icons but was also filled with the struggles, hidden pain, and cautious hope of those that had endured WWI and were still dealing with its consequences. While many of the famous faces that could be seen and heard in Paris during those years appear and often take part in the narrative of The Paris Hours, the focus is on the lives of four seemingly unconnected French citizens each with their secret post-war struggles – Guillaume, a penniless artist surrounded by this historical gathering of genius but unable to make a name for himself; Camille, an innkeeper, and mother haunted by the loss of her employer and friend, Marcel Proust; Jean-Paul, a journalist who longs to leave Paris and the memories it holds of those he’s lost but hope chains him to the city, and Souren, an Armenian refugee who has seen unspeakable horrors and carries with him a guilt over having survived.
These characters are richly drawn and the reader quickly comes to care for them even as each alludes to unforgivable transgressions. The reader is left wondering what these secrets and betrayals are until the climactic scene at the nightclub, Le Chat Blanc. The journey to this scene with its descriptions of 1920s Paris is also beautifully written even when describing the less beautiful areas of the city. With each mention of a street name or a bridge, a park or a cafe, I felt as if I were traversing the city along with the lonely characters.
The novel and its secrets stealthily inhabit your mind until you find yourself trying to figure out how the characters fit together and learn their terrible secrets before the author reveals them instead of sleeping or working as you should be. The reason I find myself torn comes from all of the questions the novel leaves unanswered at the end. The reader is left to imagine how the characters’ stories end, ending at what could have been the most dramatic scene of all. I can imagine many things but after spending so much time getting to know the characters, I want to know what happens to them.
Note: My favorite celebrity cameo in the novel is the composer Maurice Ravel. I kept wondering what the heartbreaking piece he kept playing was so I thank Alex George for telling us in his notes at the end of the book. I’ve since listened to the piece and plan to download it as soon as possible. Gorgeous.
If you enjoy novels with lots of secrets, unexpected connections, and surprising twists at the end like The Paris Hours, then you may also enjoy M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans, Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper, or Elizabeth Joy Arnold’s The Book of Secrets. And I definitely recommend (again) Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.