Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Edward Rutherfurd's Paris

How could the cover not catch my eye? But when I opened the book at random and read a few paragraphs, I thought I'd pass. It looked a bit too much of a romantic saga, and at 809 pages, it was several inches thick.

A few weeks later I changed my mind and purchased an e-book to read on the trip to Paris. I'm glad I did! While it is a bit formulaic, it is a great formula with strong execution. Epic! The novel follows six different family lines through eight hundred years.

I found the book entertaining, informative, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Incredibly well researched! It includes gossipy accounts about Louis the XIV's suspect parentage;  informed opinions on whether Hemingway was exaggerating the extent of his poverty as a young novelist; horrific details about the slaughter of Protestants in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre; the role of women over the centuries. Toronto and Canada both get mentioned, which I always appreciate.

Literary reviews of Rutherfurd's Paris are typically unkind, but I think they somewhat miss the point. They're so bitchy they're almost funny:
  • The Telegraph Review: This is history for people who can’t be bothered to read it, an 800-page whizz through eight centuries of Parisian life in which every character has swallowed a guidebook and no one is ever short of a round-eyed audience to bombard with the fact-cannon." 
  •  The Washington Post: He isn’t a novelist; he’s a docent, shoehorning facts into every scene and conversation. A passing painter describes what realism is. Monsieur Gustave Eiffel lectures young Thomas Gascon on the structural engineering of his new tower. The artist Marc Blanchard describes the history of Paris to an American friend: “So we have, for instance, the ancient Ile de la Cite, and the Montagne Sainte-Genevieve where the university is, which was once a Roman forum.” The characters may be French, but their native tongue is Wikipedia.
  • The Toronto Star: ...these books aren’t really stories. Rather they are histories with a spoonful of sugar provided by the narrative. Paris moves back and forth in time between several major periods and weaves together the lives of various family lines from generation to generation. But Rutherfurd’s characters are not really independent people: they serve only to be convenient witnesses for historical events, and as such their motivations are usually completely unoriginal and often completely clichéd.
You might not get to know the characters in much depth, but the moments of their lives you do share are distillations of the era. Besides, this is not any one character's story, it is first and foremost a story about Paris. And if you are in love with Paris you will likely love the book. Details about the cathedrals, the views, the streets, the art...

Now, onto London, a 2,000 year old tale touching on Roman times, the Tower, the Globe and St. Paul's.

No comments: