In her memoir, Paris in Love, romance writer Eloisa James describes the year that she, her husband, and her two children spent in Paris. This book is a glorious, frothy confection with subtle emotional depths. I gobbled it up, but it deserves to be lovingly savored.
This book is fun, and lovely, and delicious. Because it is written in short, journalistic entries, I could pick almost any quote to share and it would give you a good feel for the book. Here’s some of my favorites. I know this is too many quotes, but I’m carried away because I love this book so much!
We just discovered a wonderful creperie, Breizh Café, which makes classic Breton crepes from dark buckwheat flour…We sat next to a grandfather and his eight or nine year old grandson. They each had a huge classic crepe – with just a dusting of sugar. They ate them up, and then Grandpa summoned the waiter: two more of the same! They talked about lions, about how fast and fierce they are. I thought of a kindly grandpa lion, lying in the shade of a baobab tree, sharing bones and stories with a cub.
I’ve been thinking about marriage. There’s no getting around the fact that the institution leads to the best and the worst of times. The other day Allesandro looked at me and said, “Are you going out like that?” I briefly considered homicide. But then last night he squeezed me and said, “Don’t lose weight. I like it when you’re curvy.” I was so glad I hadn’t slain him.
After extensive research, I have a blueprint for a perfect tart. It should be very small, hardly more than a bite, and have a buttery, flaky crust, a bit of pastry cream, and a miniature tower of raspberries. One or two berries should be topped with edible gold leaf, in order to create the illusion that the eater is Marie Antionette herself, wearing a spun-sugar wig, nibbling cakes, and handing out dining advice.
The book is not a memoir about writing, but writing creeps in, as in this delightful scene:
I have finished my version of Beauty and the Beast! To celebrate, we went out to our local Thai restraint and discussed titles. Because my hero was inspired by the television program House M.D., the kids are championing “The Cranky Cripple and the Bodacious Bride”, but my editor tossed that for When Beauty Tamed the Beast. I like it, though I’m secretly afraid that my hero remains untamed as ever.
I would kill to read a book called “The Cranky Cripple and the Bodacious Bride”. Seriously.
It’s temping to compare this book to Eat, Pray Love, another story about a writer who basically plays hooky for a year (James did not take the year off from writing, but she did take a sabbatical from teaching). I have neither read, nor seen the film adaptation of Eat, Pray, Love, but I did read a different book by Elizabeth Berg called The Year of Pleasures. That book was about healing from grief by learning to enjoy simple pleasures, and what bugged me was that the pleasures, while simple, were neither cheap nor accessible to most of us. Most people in the world experience grief and most cannot console themselves by wrapping themselves in the folds of a cashmere shawl, or by filling every room in our spacious and lovely home with roses, as Berg recommends.
Thankfully, Paris in Love indulges in an abundance of pleasures without the sanctimonious tone. Eloisa James never takes her year for granted, and except for one bit in which she urges every woman to take her clothes to a tailor, she’s not doling out life advice. She’s just sharing this amazing year she had, because she wants us to know about it. The closest thing to advice might be to take risks, to pay attention to beauty of all kinds, and to love your family. Still, there is an underlying emotional weight to the book – James is recovering from the death of her mother and from her own battle with breast cancer, and her father is losing his memory. Even though she doesn’t mention these things often, the shadow of them is ever-present, and when she does speak of them, it’s with great poignancy. At the end of the book, I found myself in tears, to my own utter surprise.
If I have one issue with this book, it’s that as much as I enjoyed reading about James’ children, ages eleven and fifteen, I was very glad not to be them during that year. I, personally, would not want my mother to publish an account of me buying my first training bra (even though, as a reader, it was one of my favorite parts of the book). I would not want the world to know about my math grades, and the kids’ school years sound absolutely horrible. I’m not criticizing James’ parenting here – she’s warm and loving with her kids, and they are ferociously intelligent, fluent in at least three languages, resourceful and resilient, at least partly because they are expected to face challenging situations. But I do hope the kids had some veto power over what did and didn’t go into the book.
I took so much joy in reading this book. I truly meant to read it a little at a time, but I just devoured it. It was like this beautiful dream unfolding in front of me. It was a confection as lovely as the chocolate shoe James receives from her husband. I hadn’t planned to review this book – I picked it up purely as a guilty pleasure. But with every page I thought, “I HAVE to tell the Bitches about this book!” Now I have. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!