Book review: Paris by the Book by Liam Callanan
If you love bookshops, Parisian charm and an intriguing mystery, then this beguiling story could be your favourite summer read.
Break open a bottle of vin rouge and get lost in the bittersweet life of American Leah Eady as she journeys through uncharted waters in search of her missing husband, and ends up finding both herself and a new way of life in the heart of the French capital.
Paris by the Book – an enchanting portrait of both a lost soul and a magical city – comes from the pen of Liam Callanan from Wisconsin, an author, teacher and journalist whose first novel, The Cloud Atlas, was a finalist for an Edgar Award.
Set in the Marais, a historic and fashionable district of Paris famous for its trendy restaurants, fashion houses and hip galleries, Callanan’s seductive blend of reading and romance peers between the pages of two French landmark books as a marriage and a mystery start to unravel in haunting and poignant style.
Once a week, Leah Eady chases men in the hope that they might be her husband. It might sound bizarre but her story began nearly 20 years ago when she met and fell in love with aspiring and somewhat eccentric writer Robert Eady in their home town of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Their shared interest in classic children’s books, The Red Balloon by French author and film maker Albert Lamorisse, and the Madeline series by Austria-Hungary-born American writer Ludwig Bemelmans, was the spark that brought them together.
Leah gave up her dreams of being a film maker when they married and she dedicated her life to becoming a loving, organised mother to their two daughters Daphne and Ellie while Robert pursued a career as a successful children’s book author.
Over the years, Leah accepted that Robert would sometimes disappear for days on end for what she called his ‘writeaways,’ time and space alone to write. But in recent years, his career has been ‘taking one wrong turn after another’ and now he has walked out and not come back.
The only clue to Robert’s whereabouts is the discovery of plane tickets to Paris and Leah sets off for France with her teenage daughters. There she discovers an unfinished manuscript, one Robert had been writing without her knowledge, and featuring a story set in Paris.
Hoping to uncover more clues, Leah takes over a small, struggling English-language bookshop in the bustling Marais district, only to realise that Robert might just be closer than any of them had ever imagined… but what if he doesn’t want to be found?
Robert’s mysterious disappearance is the driving force behind this fascinating French foray and Callanan eloquently reminds us of the artistic rigours of writing that often go unseen and uncomprehended by readers, and the power that rests in books to inform us, unite us, and bring both joy and solace.
But Paris by the Book is essentially a carefully and beautifully crafted love story… the multi-faceted love between a man and a woman, the loving bonds of family, the eternal romance of Paris, and the age-old love affair with books.
Leah’s acutely observant and often moving narration explores family life, the sacrifices we make for both our partners and our children, and the imperative to start again when all that we have come to rely on is suddenly snatched away.
Packed with literary allusions, home truths, an enchanting bookshop and seductive snapshots of Paris, this is the perfect escape for the holiday season.
(HQ, trade paperback, £12.99)