13, rue Thérèse by Elena Mauli Shapiro
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
American academic Trevor Stratton discovers a box full of artifacts from World War I as he settles into his new office in Paris. The pictures, letters, and objects in the box relate to the life of Louise Brunet, a feisty, charming Frenchwoman who lived through both World Wars.
As Trevor examines and documents the relics the box offers up, he begins to imagine the story of Louise Brunet's life: her love for a cousin who died in the war, her marriage to a man who works for her father, and her attraction to a neighbor in her building at 13 rue Thérèse. The more time he spends with the objects though, the truer his imaginings of Louise's life become, and the more he notices another alluring Frenchwoman: Josianne, his clerk, who planted the box in his office in the first place, and with whom he finds he is falling in love.
My Take: Here's what I liked - The author found herself in possession of the artifacts used for this book because a woman on her mother's street in Paris died without family. The apartment superintendent allowed people to pick through the woman's belongings and take what they wished. The author dreamed of writing a book about the relics.
The prose is amazing. The author creates characters using the relics with a story. Nothing is really known about Louise, the protagonist, but the author created something out of very little. Louise is barren but married to Henri. She teaches piano to a brilliant student. Together they watch a family move into the building. The husband is a hottie. Louise plays cat and mouse with him. His name is Xavier.
Xavier is gifted in the art of double meaning and innuendo. He teaches school to impressionable boys. He reads a political poem to them regarding the Orient and it could be construed as very sexual. He also double dates with Louise and her husband. He describes a flower in a garden with sensual detail that makes the reader giggle like an adolescent boy.
So far, I am only guilty of reading more into the words than what may or may not be there. It's fun, flirty, and secretly a little naughty. Then it gets graphic. I no longer need my imagination because every little detail is described. Louise lives out every one of her fantasies. She becomes the sexual desire of everybody she loves, including relationships that, in any society, is considered taboo.
As the story progresses, not only does it become more and more sexually explicit, but Trevor Stratton seems to become more and more confused with what is real and what is in his imagination. In fact, he seems to forget who he is and steps into the different parts he has created. Is it a game or is he crazy? What's real and what is not?
For all the clever prose and interesting props, the story really let me down. That said, I believe there is enough merit to the artistry of the craft, this book will have a fan base.