You join me as I mark day 3,000 of driving myself up the wall.
I walk from room to room, surprised to find they are exactly the same as I left them. I try to engage the dog in conversation, she turns her back on me. I have bored even her to tears, a dog who never leaves my side unless someone else has pizza. That’s how bad things have got over here at Sarah’s House of Humdrum Monotony.
Oh wait! It’s the postwoman – I have to tell her the hilarious story I just remembered! Oh, she dropped the package and ran away. Bye friend…
Anyway, back to the task at hand, talking about all my 2D friends and the adventures we go on together. We sit in coffee shops, we roam museums, we get manicures and we find a table at the bar (because we can’t walk in heels like we used to) to perve on hot guys who are probably a good 15 years younger than us now. How we laugh at the years passing us by as we toast our fabulousness.
We go on mini breaks, old enough now to know paying extra upfront for easyJet allocated seats is sensible expenditure. We arrive at the hotel and have a quick disco nap before we head out ‘to find our bearings’. Oh, how busy and wonderful we are, my friends and I. Our relationships may only last for 350 pages, but they are deep and meaningful and they’re ALL I’VE GOT, GODDAMMIT.
For real though, are you ok? Holding up? I’m not. None of us are. Don’t feel bad about that. We’re all at our limits. Do whatever you have to do to keep as close to happy and chill as you can. For me, as ever, that means reading – immersing myself in the worlds of others for a time and escaping the four walls of my own.
And so, to springtime in Paris. That much longed for Hollywood promise, the ultimate in glamorous jaunts where wonderful things happen under the Eiffel Tower while you’re wearing a Breton and eating a baguette.
In real life, I sat outside the Café de Flore on my first visit, next to two American ladies in their 50s, babbling with excitement. They had sent their kids off to college and were finally taking that trip of a lifetime. First stop the famous café, the cultural touchstone at the centre of countless movies, books and whatnot. We three all had the same lofty dreams about this magical place, and I could see in their eyes and hear in their too high pitched ‘Isn’t this wonderful?’s that they’d come to the same realisation as me – they should have worn a jacket, there was way too much dog shit on the pavement, the waiter was an ass and £6.50 for the tiniest cup of weak tea was wrong.
Paris is just Paris, another city, the same as the closest city to you. But it’s the dream that’s important, the dream of moonlight, romance, magic, love and croissants. Let’s keep dreaming…
The Paris Wife
Hadley Richardson is a bit lost. She’s drifting through life, aimless, wondering if love has passed her by (she’s 28 at this point – eyeroll) when she encounters the whirlwind that is Ernest Hemingway and his passion, his lust for life and his boundless energy and ambition to be THE writer of the age sweep her off her feet. They dive headfirst into love, marriage, and a baby in a Parisian carriage.
The book throws us right into the roaring 20s, and the Jazz Age where the fabulous people run the town – Think Made in Chelsea but with flapper dresses. It’s the same smoke and mirrors, the same trust funds and the same gossip and backstabbing, but the people in this book are also creating some of the best artistic offerings of the modern age.
Ernest is both utterly captivating and captivated by the glamour. He stays up all night and sleeps much of the day and Hadley supports him in every possible way. He’s the creative genius after all, the dream weaver, and his process must be protected at all costs. When they go out, he spends the whole time flirting and holding court, but is deeply wounded if his entirely ignored wife wants to stay at home. She’s shattered and has a baby but there she is, roaming about looking after her man-baby too. In some ways, perhaps the roaring twenties weren’t so different to the lockdown ones…
So, this is a glorious macaron of a book. The imagery is stellar, painting Paris and Hemingway all of his women and the seeming glamour of the era with an astounding accuracy you don’t see coming. To paraphrase a modern-day Sartre, “It’s a full on Monet – from far away its ok, but up close it’s a big old mess.”
The Paris Hours
The Yin to The Paris Wife’s Yang. The moon to its sun, the… enough Sarah!
Set over one single day, this tantalising tale shows a metaphorical downstairs of Paris’ Downton Abbey equivalent, introducing us to the people who actually make the city run while Icarus, Narcissus, Dionysus and all the other high-brow self-important twats who’ve never lived a single day in the real world run rampant.
Alex George tells the stories of four people who have the same dreams as Proust, Hemingway and Stein, but none of the advantages. We get to know Camille, a housemaid to Proust who is fiercely loyal and spends the day trying to find his lost notebook in order to preserve his memory, dedicated to him even in death. We also meet Guillaume, a painter drowning in the debt that, having provided him with the only means to do what he loves, he has just one day to pay back. Then there’s Souren, a refugee puppeteer performing for Paris’ upper-class children, enraptured by a talent that hides the torment of all he left behind. And to round off our foursome, Jean-Paul is a journalist who’s frantically searching for his missing daughter. It’s a race against time, and a race around Paris that has you rooting for them on every page.
Cleverly contrasting the lives of our ordinary quartet with the extraordinary historical figures who brush their lives and, in doing so, showing how much richer and purposeful the lives of the less glamorous characters are, this is a tres sweet air kiss of a book. Open for ideal lockdown three escapism.
The Paris Library
Janet Skeslien Charles
Ou est la bibliothèque? Tourne a droit a la centre ville. No just kidding, the library is in the book, and the book is available at the link below.
This is a back and forth book, focussed both on Odile as a young woman in Paris at the start of WW2 and Odile as an old woman in Montana, 40-something years later. I love a bit of dual narrative action and this is very cleverly done.
The American Library in Paris, a total institution both then and now, is a bookworm’s paradise, where Odile gets a job amongst a group of eccentrics, people of all ages and backgrounds bound together by their love of books. But as France falls quickly to the Nazis, Paris is overrun and suddenly looks very different. Odile’s beloved twin has gone to fight on the front line and working in the library gives her sanctuary from the constant worry she has for him.
Meanwhile, in Montana in 1983, there’s a teenager named Lily who’s lost her mum. She’s grieving and, as a distraction, pursues her curiosity about the old French lady living across the street.
And so, the story unfolds. Odile’s precious library is constantly under threat of closure. They are ordered to get rid of all banned books and have to smuggle tomes out to their Jewish subscribers. Rations are biting and tensions grow as everyone’s lives are shattered one way or another by the Nazi occupation. But still, those pesky librarians, known for their ninja-esque abilities, don’t stop in their pursuit of providing books to all who need them, risking life and liberty in the process.
Teenage Lily in Montana is teasing these details from a reluctant Odile gradually, as she essentially forces her way into the widow’s life. She becomes such a constant presence, our French heroine gives in and keeps her around, like a cat, or the guy you married after uni. He’s nice enough. You don’t really want him there anymore, but there’s no good reason to get rid of him either. Too close to the bone? Soz.
Anyhow, this is beautifully woven book – Lily got on my nerves a bit as teenagers are wont to do, but apart from that, it’s a cracker. C’est fantastique, if you will.
OK, je vais arrêter… Merci, high school French.
The Flock book club in March
For next month, in a continuation of the ‘we need all the help we can get’ theme, I thought we’d go all-in for a total schmaltz fest. Books that make you melt into a warm and fuzzy heap. Joy and mini eggs, if you will.
Don’t worry, I haven’t had a lobotomy. My heart is still cold and black. But sometimes even I need a little reminder that humans aren’t all bad – especially right now when the only humans I see with regularity are either in the mirror, or two metres away from my doorstep…
So, these books are here to remind us of the fact good people exist, and we’ll see them again soon…
The House in the Cerulean Sea
Basically, this is just divine. I saw someone describe reading it as like being wrapped up in a big gay blanket and I’d say, add in some cute little X Men vibes and you’re there. It’s just such a wonderful life affirming tale of love, friendship and acceptance. Sob. I know, I know – will the real cynical Sarah please stand up?
The 100 Years of Lenni and Margot
Exploring the cute as a button friendship between a 17-year-old and an 83-year-old (That adds up to 100, see? Clever) who meet in hospital, bonding over their mutual reluctance to give up. High jinx ensues, obviously, and the whole thing could be summed up with the phrase ‘Old people are so cute.’ Yes, that was my second Clueless reference. *High fives self.
The Authenticity Project
I think we’re all starting to realise how lonely and isolated older people can be, and this story explores that very gently, via the medium of a café, a green notebook and six people who forge friendships because of its contents. In short, it’s a tale that shows, timeously, that everybody needs friends no matter how ‘fine’ they seem (insert Ross GIF here).
The Flock’s BookShop enables us to support small independent book stores across the UK wherever possible. We may also earn a small commission from sales through these links, which will go directly into our tip jar to help pay our writers and illustrators.