Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Janet Skeslien Charles - The Paris Library

Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet has it all: her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.
Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.
A powerful novel that explores the consequences of our choices and the relationships that make us who we are—family, friends, and favorite authors—The Paris Library shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest of places.

Comment: I've added this book to my TBR because it sounded very good and I'm generally a fan of stories set during WWII. Plus, the premise was another good reason, anything related to books or libraries always interests me.

In this book we follow two stories, Odile's life in France during WWII and teenager Lily in the US in 1984. It seems their lives have nothing in common but we learn Odile is living in the same small American town as Lily and this means her life has changed a lot since what we learn she lived through in the 1940s. While Odile is a young woman who feels so happy when the story begins for she starts working at the American Library in Paris, Lily is a more melancholic teenager whose life seems to have all the difficulties for someone her age. However, these two will become friends and as we learn how their paths meet we also learn how they got to be the person we read about. What story can these two have that will shape so many of their choices?

While I sailed through the first chapters, I imagined this book would be close to perfect. The characters were so interesting, even when they just described little mundane things, but the environment, the atmosphere created did help a lot in suggesting me certain feelings and emotions. The writing was also fluid, easy and appealing, making me curious to know more about the characters.

The story is told by Odile and Lily, not always in alternate chapters but almost. There is also the POV of two or three more narrators here an there in key moments, but the majority is definitely the other two. Their voices are quite different and not only because they have different ages, of course their lives have a huge impact in what they think and do, especially how their surroundings influence them.

Obviously, with this I mean the fact Odile is living through a war can't be avoided as significant for why she has to behave a certain way or another.

Still, although most of the chapters by her are compelling, I must say what I feel was the most obvious detail is that no matter what Odile read as someone truly immature. I think it was clear to the reader that despite the challenges and the things she learns as the war evolves, she keeps a very simplistic way of seeing things and I must admit, at some point, this started to be a little annoying, because how many lessons/disappointments/hits can one take without changing? This element seemed even more glaring as we got closer to the end because Odile as an old lady is a character in the 1980s sections and she reads as a wise person who lived through too much and this clashed, in my opinion.

Lily is apparently easier to read, at least the experiences she goes through seem closer to any reader's perspective - we all were teenagers going through school at least -  even considering she does face some hardships at her young age. I think these sections were like a way to decompress from the stress of Odile's parts but this doesn't mean one is always easier; some of the things Lily faces can be see as difficult to read about

One of the things I liked the most was all the book talk, references, the life at the library and those who worked there... libraries re fascinating worlds and I finished the book with the slight dream of, if I ever could return to Paris - I've visited in 2016 - I would love to look at this building and see the special to place a location within the imagination of a book knowing it was a stage in the real world at some point?

I could not read as continuously as I could but the book was very engrossing. For someone who has read about the WWII, some themes are repetitive of course, but the author's style is special enough for everything to have a different flavor. Sadly for me, though, the end wasn't strong. As the plot evolves, we clearly have the notion something had to happen for Odile to choose to leave France and never to return - that is why she is an old woman living in the US. I confess I imagined several scenarios as the story develop, especially when Odile faced this or that obstacle.

However, the truth is that while Odile's reasons can be seen as valid at that moment, I found the whole thing to be ridiculous, an easy example of her immature personality and it made the whole story and the lessons she faces as something childish. I was really disappointed. This isn't enough to ruin the story completely but I'm certain the end could have been much better and equally poignant or characterized by some sort of climax without this choice. After so much she went though, after so much one can see as demanding and unfair... the reason why she leaves and the lack of better closure on loose ends made me annoyed.

All in all, a good story but a different end could have certainly made this a lot better. Even the end of Lily's sections seemed to loose some steam so... good overall, but potential for so much better.
Grade: 8/10

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