Paris by the Book, by Liam Callanan, is charming, but is it worth reading?

click the image to buy now or pick it up at your local library

click the image to buy now or pick it up at your local library

Paris.  There is something about that word that evokes more than just the idea of a city.  There is an air of mystery and possibility about that word, of romance and wonder; it means old art and new fashion, and food. Paris, it can make you think about the bustle of life, passion, all which is good and bad in us flowing through that city.  That’s the kind of Paris that you’ll find in this latest book by Liam Callanan. 

The book is about the Eady family.  Robert is a novelist, not particularly successful, and his wife, Leah, has put her film dreams on hold to raise their two daughters.  They do well as a family; they have a good love story between them and dote on their daughters.  Robert takes little writing getaways every so often to work on his fiction, and the family has learned how to operate as a unit.

Except that Robert doesn’t come back.  Leah realizes he hasn’t been getting much writing done lately, and there is tension between them.  He’s gone so long the family doesn’t know if they should grieve him as one dead or continue looking.  Eventually, while looking for Robert, they find plane tickets to Paris and begin a new life there as booksellers. 

Paris is not only a land of discovery for them, it is also the home to Leah’s dreams of film-making and the fulfillment of a promise Robert once made to her.  Add to that an unfinished manuscript of Robert’s set in Paris, and Leah is left wondering: Is he still alive? In Paris? Or is he long dead? And if alive, why would he have left them?  There are mysteries in this book as well as new beginnings.

Many passages of the book, and, in particular, the ending, are well-written.  There is a lot to like in this story and the setting is well-used as a backdrop to help build atmosphere.  Parts of the book are quite charming, and I did find myself wondering what had happened to Robert.  Book groups will find plenty to keep discussions lively.

However, in the end, I couldn’t accept what the reader needs to accept in order to be charmed by the whole book.  There are characters and choices in the novel which are designed to help me understand certain situations, to empathize with the reasons motivating some of our characters.  I didn’t buy it.  The quality of the writing is good, the story is often engaging, but, ultimately, I can’t recommend the book because I can’t buy into romanticizing choices which are weak and self-serving.