Book Review: Paris By The Book by Liam Callanan

In America, you say, I lost my husband, and everyone thinks they know what you mean. In France, they know better. When I say I lost him, they don’t say, I’m so sorry. They say, where did he go? And so when I answered the man I’d been chasing, I spoke quietly and clearly, ad I told him what I told the police when I was still talking to the police. I said, I’m looking for my husband. What I did not say next, because at the time, the time of this story, my story, I could not yet have known? My husband is looking for me.

The prologue sets the stage for what we know to be a fraught search for meaning behind the disappearance of Leah’s husband Robert. Grasping for understanding, she is riddled with questions following his mysterious absence—did he leave her and their two daughters, is he dead, is he..? But before she can drum up answers, we first learn about their relationship, what they first bonded over and the significant ways in which they differed.

When Leah is caught, by Robert himself, trying to abscond with a book from a local bookstore, they find common ground in their love of books and film—particularly that of two significant works produced in and about the wonderful foreign city of Paris, France. They make a promise to one another that they will see the sights of Paris in the flesh, but soon life takes hold and they are buried under the weight of parenthood, work and other such responsibilities.

Robert, a work from home writer with some success, shoulders the brunt of the menial parenting tasks with little complaint, however he only does so if one stipulation is satisfied: unlimited “write aways” wherein he can escape at a moments notice to feed his creative needs. Their arrangement is successful, but as time goes on Robert’s complexity becomes something Leah cannot ignore and his deeper emotional needs bubble to the surface, though not with enough force to elicit much change in the family dynamic.

I brushed the hair from those eyes, and looked for im. There he was. Somewhere. And somewhere inside, something hurt. I fantasized about being able to reach down inside him, to reset some switch, turn some dial, push or pull a button that said stop. I wanted to help him that much. I loved him that much. Enough to say what I said then.

“We’ll escape!”

But we didn’t, of course.

Until he did.

One day, Robert leaves on what appears to be another one of his writing excursions, however this time he breaks the cardinal rule—he does not leave a note. Chalking it up to forgetfulness or distraction, Leah chooses not to worry. That is, until days and weeks pass with no sign of her husband. Unsure of what to do next, Leah internalized her struggle, hiding from her daughters the doubts she has that Robert will come back—surely believing he has chosen to leave for good, or worse he is dead by some accident or of his own doing.

Eager for a sign, Leah starts looking everywhere she goes for some clue Robert has left her. When she finally discovers airline tickets to Paris buried in an ancient bag of Robert’s granola, she takes this eccentric finding as the signal she needs to uproot what remains of her family and set out for the city she has so longed for. The magic of Paris soon takes hold and Leah and her daughters settle in—making friends, starting school and work but all the while never forgetting their missing husband and father. When other clues make themselves known, Leah and the girls wonder if Robert sent them to Paris on a morbid scavenger hunt or perhaps this is merely some cruel trick of the universe.

“We have Daphne, who thinks she saw him-sees him. We have you, who saw a note scribbled in one of his books. We have one hundred pages of a manuscript that I found, describing a family who sound a hell of a lot like one I know,” she said.

We’ve reached a turning point: I waited for Eleanor to say it. But she said something else, something that made me realize Eleanor and the girl had reached that point long ago, and it was time for me to.

“We’re not wait for him to make some noise,” Eleanor said, “because he already has.”

Peppered with small dramas and mishaps, Paris By The Book reads like an adult version of the beloved classic story of Madeline, however the protagonists struggles are much more introspective and thoughtful. When the ultimate fate of Robert is revealed we discover that the thread of mystery running throughout the story was simply a means by which Leah could discover herself and her Paris.cropped-blog-logo.png

A review copy of this title was provided by Dutton Books.

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