Wednesday 6 October 2021

The Paris Library

Finished October 5
The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

This novel has two timelines, one in Paris starting in 1939 and going until 1944 and the other in small town Montana starting in 1983 and going until 1989. The link between the two is Odile, a French woman who married an American just after the war and settled in the town, Froid, in Montana. 
In Paris, Odile is interviewed and gets a job at the American Library, a place she is in awe of and has aimed to work at for years. We see Odile as well as the other staff at the library over this time period, getting to know the situations and some of the personalities.
Odile's father is a high-ranking police officer who doesn't understand Odile's need for a career and just wants to see her happily married, bringing home junior officers to Sunday dinner to try to make a match. Odile's twin brother Remy is interested in politics and trying to change the world. 
Odile makes friends with her coworkers as well as some of the regular staff, including a lonely wife of an American diplomat who becomes a volunteer at the library.
Odile is young and impulsive and at times her actions end in regret. We see how one of these actions compelled her to make her choice of an American husband and run from her life in Paris.
In the modern day story, teenage Lily is close to her mother Brenda, and finds herself unmoored when Brenda becomes ill. Lily has long been fascinated by Odile, a woman who has never really fit in in their town, and has recently called on her to find out more about her and Paris, using a school assignment as leverage. With Brenda's illness, Lily spends more time at her neighbour Odile's house and even begins to learn French from her. As we see Lily go through her high school years, dealing with the changes that happen in her family and the normal angst of growing up, we see how Odile is a positive influence in her life, guiding her in a way to learn from and avoid some of the mistakes that Odile herself made in her youth. 
This story is a sad one, although it has many joyful moments. Odile's choice to run from her life, cutting off all ties is one that to me is heart-wrenching, both for her and for those she left behind whose stories after that we don't know much of at all. There is so much they won't have understood about her never returning, and it seems like they may not have tried which is even sadder.
Lily's story is more hopeful, despite her own losses, partly because of Odile's influence in her life. 
This was an interesting story which compelled me and made me reflect. 

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