This is a historical fiction novel that was a recent Book of the Month Club selection and alternates between four different characters over the course of a single day in Paris in 1927. There Jean-Paul, a heartbroken journalist who continually searches for his missing daughter; there Camille, the maid of Marcel Proust who, when asked to burn all of his notebooks kept one for herself, Guillaume, who owes a debt to a crime boss and if he doesn’t pay up by the end of the day, will be killed and Souren, an Armenian refugee who performs puppet shows for children, some of them a tad on the grisly side as he relives his tragic past via his shows.
We get their stories through a series of flashbacks, and we see first-hand the secrets, regrets, sadness, hopelessness, and betrayal that each character is carrying. Via the book’s short chapters, we get a glimpse of their past and present, their life journeys, their heartbreak, their life lessons. There’s a lot to untangle with these highly complex and damaged characters.
The author dives into numerous themes in this novel: war, love, loss, grief, murder, guilt, secrets, deception, and loneliness, which an undercurrent of hope beneath it all. This was an elegant, evocative book with beautiful lyrical writing, which had a melodic flow to it, and I found each character’s backstory to be utterly compelling.
We also have some cameos by Gertrude Stein, Marcel Proust, Maurice Ravel, and Josephine Baker, which added a bit of extra interest to the story.
The four characters’ stories come crashing together in a rather explosive and shocking way at the end of the book. Now I will say that the ending was left open to interpretation, so if you like everything completely and nicely wrapped up at the end, then this may not be the book for you.
But if you like historical fiction and/or Paris, then you may want to give The Paris Hours a try.