Review: 13, rue Thérèse by Elena Mauli Shapiro
“She will give him the office with the tall useless empty file cabinet in the corner. He will probably not think to open all the drawers and look in them his first day on the premises. But he will, eventually, discover a box tucked all the way into the darkness at the back of the bottom drawer, innocent-looking yet unexpected. How could one see such a think and then not take a little peek inside?” (~pg. 5)
So the plot begins…..a mysterious box of artifacts, strategically left for Trevor Stratton, a young American starting a new job in Paris. As he begins to peruse the letters, photos, trinkets, etc., he delves into the world of Louise Brunet, a Frenchwoman who lived in Paris during the first part of the 19th century, whose life was impacted by the Great War that devastated the world. As he ponders this woman and pieces together in his imagination the story of her life, her love, her loss, he becomes enamored with the history and sweeping romance that he uncovers.
I did the unthinkable! I fell in love with the cover. An ultimate no-no. But come on – look at it. This cover is gorgeous! I look at it and the songs of Les Miserables start playing in my head… “Do you hear the people sing?” or “On my own, pretending he’s besides me…” Okay, push pause on my brain iPod. It’s actually set in Paris during World War I and World War II, and you can’t help but feel the love and the loss that resonate in this girl’s eyes. The sepia tint and the backlighting that makes those curls in her hair seems so soft just scream Historical Fiction. Naturally, I’m a big fan of this genre, and this novel was one I really, really, really wanted to love. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Don’t get me wrong, it has its moments, but they are too few and far between for me to be satisfied. I found the narration confusing and cluttered. I’ve never really been a fan of the frame story structure, but it’s necessary for this novel – we have to experience Louise through Trevor’s eyes. Trevor’s story is useless except to bring us to Louise. I like Louise. She’s a woman struggling to find her place, and I can relate to that. Given the setting, 1920s Europe, it’s no wonder she sits on the fence between wanting to be a proper housewife and wanting to rebel and be free from the traditional constrains of society. Louise lost her first love to the horrors of the war, settled down with her father’s business partner, never had kids, and eventually grows tired of her husband and initiates a love affair with the handsome neighbor next door. The history and the piece-by-piece discovery of her life story are enjoyable to read. Her portion of the narrative was well-written and character driven; I felt the desire, the longing, the wishful thinking, and even the resentment and frustration that Louise felt about her life. If it were just her story, the book would be a better read.
Rating: 3 /5 (Decent but not riveting)
The novel is unique for a couple of reasons – 1) the pictures and images placed among the pages of the text bring the story to life and 2) there is even an accompanying website with additional access to certain items you can’t seem to stop staring at…bringing the whole experience of Louise to the digital age we live in now. However, there are too many footnotes and pages of information that describe these artifacts that distract from the plot itself. Piecing together the story of a woman’s life through someone else’s thoughts is also something that stands out with this novel. Again though, I was put off a little by the fact that a man was imagining the desires, romance, and ideals of our female protagonist. Oh well…
Elena Mauli Shapiro grew up in Paris, where she lived a few floors below an old woman named Louise Brunet. When Louise passed away, no one came for her things, so the landlord let the other tenants scavenge the apartment. Elena’s mother brought home a box of mementos – love letters, church gloves, dried flowers – which Elena has carried with her all over the world. It is these mementos that served as the inspiration for the story of Louise. The real Louise we don’t know anything about, but the one Elena creates can be read about in 13, rue Thérèse.
Genre: Adult, Historical Fiction
Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books (February 2, 2011)
Review Copy: ARC Courtesy of Publisher