Jun 6, 2011

13, rue Thérèse by Elena Mauli Shapiro


13, rue Thérèse by Elena Mauli Shapiro
Hardcover, 278 pages
Published February 2nd 2011 by Hachette/Reagan Arthur Books
Review copy provided by publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating: 4 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 fiesty, 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.

This book is a visual delight. Photos of correspondence, photos of the people discussed, a treasure hunt of a puzzle. The writing is another intriguing factor.. flits in and out of "present" and the past.. which could either be construed as a confusing mess or instead a fun jaunt into adventure unlike any other book you've read. The entire premise is original and rare, and I embrace it.

This is one of those books that to review it without spoiling the delight for the new reader is very difficult, as each little discovery of the plot and the people were slowly unwrapped via the narration as we peruse the contents of a mysterious box. I shall not spoil it. There are many themes here, from family loyalty and trust, marriage and infidelity, war and its dizzying effects, and finally a bit of time travel or reincarnation or spiritualism that just may be the definition of whether you enjoy or hate this book. And the fact that there is infidelity which brings explicit sexual content could go either way: love it or hate it.

For me, I normally dislike abundance of sex. And I certainly do not promote infidelity, nor do I do so now. It was not full of sex scenes, but full of thoughts of them. In a cemetery, in the hallway, etc. And still, this book as a package, was a winner for me, for the sheer unconventionality of it all. I loved the different visuals of  memorabilia: the jewelry, postcards, letters, and photos as they were examined piece by piece in the story. I loved the very different and very creative way the story played itself out. And in the very end, there is a 'twist' that could make you exclaim "how contrived!".. but it could also shiver you with delight with its ingenuity.

13, rue Thérèse by Elena Mauli Shapiro spoke to the vintage lover in me, the creative side of me, the French language lover in me and to the mystery lover in me. The history of the family behind the artifacts was an intriguing story, as was the story of the narrator himself, Trevor Stratton. Trevor himself was a bit annoying to me. His documentation (with footnotes!) to whom he was writing was not apparent to the very end, and the very end.. was.. you'll have to read it to see... but I dropped a star because of it. And yet, eccentricities are alive, and if your mind is feeling open today, you should open 13, rue Thérèse as well.

There is an intriguing website with some of the images from the book, and I even had fun using the iPhone QR code reader at the back of the book. You'll have to check it out!