Sunday Review: The Paris Hours by Alex George

This literary novel, set in Paris during a single day in 1927, entranced me with its beauty and its intricate interweaving of four stories.

Camille, the maid of Marcel Proust during the last years of his life, has two deep secrets, one of them a serious betrayal. Her husband, jealous that she still honors the memory of the great writer, takes something of hers and sells it, unaware that by doing so he may destroy their lives. Desperately, Camille seeks to find what was taken before it’s too late.

Souren is an Armenian refugee who made his way to Paris after escaping the genocide that destroyed his entire family. There, haunted by survivor’s guilt, he entertains children in the Luxembourg Garden by performing puppet shows in a language they cannot understand but which portray events so raw and vivid that somehow the audience comprehends the stories intuitively.

Guillaume is an artist who has yet to win fame or fortune and who is in debt to a terrifying criminal. He dreams of attracting an influential collector—and of reuniting with a lost love and the child she bore.

Jean-Paul is a journalist haunted by the terrible loss he endured during the Great War. He spends his days telling other people’s stories and his nights dreaming of finding the one person who would make his life whole again.

As the novel switches back and forth among the lives of these four characters, we gradually learn their secrets and also the threads that link them without any of them suspecting it. As the day wears on, each attempts to find what was lost and, in the process, they unknowingly draw closer together. The climax of the novel brings all four of them to the same cabaret, where their lives collide in shocking ways.

Appropriately for such a glamorous period in history of Paris, the novel is also populated with brief and not-so-brief appearances of famous people: Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Maurice Ravel, Josephine Baker, Sylvia Beach. They add glamour to an already stunning story of humanity at its most poignant.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical fiction

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