Friday 3 June 2022

The Paris Bookseller

Finished May 14
The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher

This historical novel based on a real person was engrossing. Sylvia Beach came to Paris in the early 20th century, shortly before World War I began. She had early intentions of becoming a writer, but found that she wasn't able to make the words come. She became involved with the literary community in Paris, authors from many countries, including her own United States, and those that worked with them. She soon fell in love with a Parisien bookseller, Adrienne Monnier, and it wasn't long before the two became a couple. With the acceptance of same-sex relationships in Paris, and the large literary community there, Sylvia felt very much at home. Adrienne encouraged her to start her own bookshop, for English language books, and Sylvia opened it in 1919. Run on a shoestring budget, it soon drew a community of writers including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and Ernest Hemingway. Sylvia was passionate about good books, and she included a lending library model as part of her bookstore, offering the privilege for a small annual fee. Thus those who couldn't afford to buy books could still enjoy the numerous English works available. Sylvia made real friends among these writers, and I enjoyed seeing the intimacy of some of these relationships, such as Ezra Pound repairing the secondhand furniture Sylvia used in her shop. 
The book also goes deep into the complex relationship Sylvia had with James Joyce. She loved his books, and when he had difficulty finding a publisher for Ulysses, she offered to publish it. While Joyce had a strong relationship with the mother of his many children, it was also a fraught one. She didn't like the drinking that he indulged in, and he had health issues, and a tendency to live beyond his means. Sylvia was passionate about getting Ulysses to publication, but she found the relationship with Joyce difficult to manage, and sometimes felt used by him. 
Paris and its literary community, both native and ex-pat, comes alive in this novel and you can imagine it as it was, a group of friendly people trying to help each other and find their own successes along the way. 
The novel takes us up to 1936, and includes an Author's note that tells us of Sylvia's life following this. 

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