There are some books that you simply live as you read, part wishing that this life could be yours. Paris By The Book by Liam Callanan is one of them.
Callanan tells the story of Leah, a mother of two girls, living in Milwaukee and married to novelist, Robert Eady. Robert has a good deal with Leah, he’s allowed to take writing breaks from family life, on a whim, all he has to do is leave a note. One day however, Robert goes missing. There’s no note and nothing to indicate where he might be. After a few weeks, a couple of clues are found and Leah and the girls leave behind their home and move to Paris in pursuit of Robert. Leah has been dreaming of Paris her whole life, but will the city live up to her expectations and furthermore, will her husband be found?
I think that living in a small town in California has made me increasingly nostalgic, over recent years, for Europe. I’m ever more fond books set in gorgeous European cities or just cities in general, so yes, maybe Callanan had me at the word ‘Paris’. I’m also a middle aged woman, so find Leah to be an entirely relatable character. I’m no stranger to how difficult it is to start again, but how exciting such opportunities can be. Callanan writes Leah so vividly, she knows what she’s supposed to do and think, but like her teenage daughter Ellie, she often finds herself rebelling against those expectations. She’s a woman whose life has spiralled by, not unhappily, since meeting her husband and having children. She’s a long time married and yet, aspects of her husband’s life remain a mystery to her and unlike most of us, she has never been uncomfortable with this. Paris makes her strive for a new kind of independence whilst also making her face her past and acknowledge all the personal dreams and failings that have brought her there. There’s a lot here and so much that I can’t even discuss without getting into the realm of spoilers!
To clarify my opening remark, I would obviously never ever want The Husband to go missing, but the idea of owning a bookstore in Paris….. Oh yes, please! The idea of Child Number One and Child Number Two, learning to speak a foreign language fluently? The concept of boldly following where life takes you? Yes, all of this appeals to me. The fact that there is also a really great mystery rolled into this novel, namely the disappearance of Leah’s husband, only adds to how great this story is.
This is a book not only for the dreamers, but also for the realists and therein lies the magic of Callanan’s writing. As with the Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, which I also read recently, there’s real sadness here, but also optimism and the opportunity for change at different stages of life. It’s a must read.