What is it about the light in Paris? I joked a few weeks back about a sub-theme of Parisian literature -- or maybe the theme of Parisian literature -- being real estate, but truly, its chief theme is, was, always will be, light (which may be another way of talking about real estate -- again, I'm thinking here of the Mavis Gallant story I talked about a couple weeks ago).
Bestselling author Eleanor Brown catches that light on every page in this beautifully braided story of a contemporary woman in a loveless marriage, Madeleine, who discovers her grandmother Margie's diary, only to see her grandmother suddenly in, well, a new light. Decades earlier, Margie, abandoned by the young relative she was supposed to chaperone, found herself navigating Paris all on her own -- and falling further for Paris with every step.
Which is about how readers fall for this book. Moving back and forth in time, from Madeline to Margie, we encounter two women forging new lives for themselves even as their old lives attempt to entangle them ever further; parallels abound. What I particularly liked about this novel was how deliberate, and thus, real, it was. I used the word "suddenly" above, but the truth is, there's nothing cheaply sudden about this book. There are dramatic events, but Brown is careful to show us how people change, by degrees, over time. It's deeply engrossing, and deeply satisfying. (Not for nothing: so are the descriptions of food and drink throughout.)
Also deeply satisfying, and embodying many of the themes above (I'm not sure why I'm all about themes today; must be because I'm sitting at my desk in the English Department) is Brown's lively anthology, A PARIS ALL YOUR OWN, an anthology of women writers on Paris.
A final word for the final word, actually the Afterword, in Brown's novel: don't skip to it, but don't skip it, either. It's fascinating and perfectly, perfectly put.