Friday, 12 December 2014

Book Review: A Week in Paris - Rachel Hore

A Week In Paris
By Rachel Hore
Published by Simon & Schuster
Available in Paperback and ebook

Rachel Hore's latest book, A Week in Paris, is a compelling novel about freedom and family. I don't think that the cover does justice to this fantastic book which tells an intriguing story through a dual narrative. 

A Week in Paris is set during two time periods in the life of a mother, Kitty and her daughter, Fay Knox. Both fall in love in Paris and both are musical but this is where the similarities end - Kitty must form a web of lies to protect her family while Fay must untangle these lies to find out the truth.

The first time period is set in 1930s Paris, where Kitty has gone to improve her piano skills. She falls in love with a man and with the city but this all comes crashing down around her - World War II has just begun, on the day that Fay is born. At first their life doesn't change but then the German army march into Paris. She finds herself stuck in paris during the occupation of Paris by the Nazis with her young daughter and a husband who seems to be hiding away secrets as well as British service men from the enemy.

While Fay's timeline, set in the 1960s, sees Fay in Paris performing the violin in a touring orchestra. Around her, there is unrest created by the tensions in Algeria. The only time she has 'supposedly' been in Paris was on a school trip but everything seems familiar and her memories of her childhood seem to match up with the landscape of Paris rather than London. The streets of Paris hide a past that is unknown to Fay. She must piece together the clues from her past. 

The way we use secrets and lie to protect the ones we love runs through both time lines. Kitty must survive protect herself and her family from the Nazi occupation as well as try to discover the reason why her husband is secretive as soon as the war starts. While Fay must find out the truth to her childhood because the story told by her mother of living in London in Paris doesn't seem to match up with the clues she finds herself gathering during her week in Paris. Hore has created characters that are likable in one chapter but their actions makes the reader reconsider their alliance. 

Hore's writing style sweeps up the reader into a journey through Paris. The realist details do no sugar coat the occupation of Paris - we don't have romantic scenes at the biggest tourist destinations in Paris but rather Hore explores the impact of rationing on the normal citizens and the treatment of foreign residents by the Nazis. There are people on the streets who are hungry, people lingering in the shadows, living in fear of the enemy. Even in the 1960s time frame, Hore doesn't shy away from the riots caused by the tensions of Algeria and France. Normally Paris is painted as a romantic, jazz-age city but Hore has done a lot of research to show a different side of Paris. The research, however, doesn't overshadow the plot. 

This is a enjoyable read about what it takes to survive and the lies we must tell to protect the ones close to us. You can buy A Week in Paris from your favourite bookshop.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Book Review: The Guest Cat

The Guest Cat
By Takashi Hiraide
Translated by Eric Selland
Published by Picador
Available in paperback and ebook

The Guest Cat, Takashi Hiraide's first novel to be published in the UK, is a book that will not only charm cat lovers but might also tickle at the heart's of non-cat lovers too. This has been a bestseller across Japan, America and France and now it's starting to make a splash over here.

The front cover is gorgeous. The publisher has done a good job in creating a cover that is not only eye catching but also simmers under the light to lure over the reader.

One day a cat invites itself into the small home of a nameless couple, who are in their thirties and both work from home. Their relationship is stale, full of silence. They are trapped in a routine of getting out of bed and straight to their desks.

The couple are not cat people but they start to thaw their feelings when the cat starts to return day after day. They name the cat Chibi which means 'little one,' as well as leaving out food and creating a bed in their rented little cottage. Not only does the cat mend the marriage but also gets the couple to engage in the world. Before the arrival of the cat, they were both intensely involved with their work and growing apart from each other even though they live in a tiny cottage. They are disconnected from the real world except for occasionally seeing their friends or helping their landlady who has moved out of the main house.

Sometimes we need external forces to push us into seeing the world in a different way. Chibi does this to the couple. The cat pushes its way into a private relationship and forces them to see that they need more in their lives. Hiraide explores the way the cat impacts both the lives of the wife and the narrator.

For the wife, Chibi is the child that the couple does not have - she is affectionate with the cat, makes a bed and sorts out fresh food for the cat. The narrator/husband tells the reader that the couple have decided not to have children but from the way that the wife behaves with the cat makes the reader wonder if the wife has only gone along with the husband's viewpoint.

The husband/narrator starts to behave more like the cat - coming and going out of the landlady's empty house, pottering around the garden, stepping back away from his work and taking time to stop and observe the world around him, letting Chibi take him away from the confinements of his home and into the garden.

The last third of the book changes in tone and I found that I enjoyed this part more than the first half of the book. The reader is left wondering how much of this book is 'fiction' and how much of this is 'memoir' as the reader finds out that the narrator has written several articles on Chibi for the original owner - this explains the episodic feel of the earlier chapters. Hiraide leaves the reader wondering at the end of The Guest Cat if the narrator has written down the life of Chibi as a way of stating his ownership of Chibi.

The Guest Cat is a book that is heart warming but also disappointing in some places. I would have liked more of the story from the wife's perspective and for there to be more of a plot. I enjoyed the sections where the couple interacted with the cat's owners and I would have liked more of this. At times the prose is repetitive and the narrator does go off on tangents from the main plot. For me, this book could have been shorter.

This is a short read and ideal for sitting back in a cosy armchair and finishing off in one afternoon.

You can buy The Guest Cat from your favourite book shop.

I was kindly sent a copy by the Publisher.