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The Paris Novel Bets On...

The Paris Novel

May 2024

I do love armchair travel, especially when it is delivered to me by someone who clearly has fabulous taste, a keen eye and a seasoned palate. Ruth Reichl is the perfect guide for this --- and she weaves a terrific story around it in THE PARIS NOVEL.

Stella has had a very tough childhood, with a mother who ignores her more than she favors her. Along the way, she is abused as a child and walks away from her childhood home as soon as she can to build her own life. She finds joy working with an editor at Vintage Books; she is very happy and comfortable at her job there. But when her mother passes away, she finds herself with a rather interesting inheritance --- a one-way plane ticket and a note reading “Go to Paris.” Stella is like a little church mouse with absolutely no idea what to do for an adventure. Her boss says, “Go!” And with that kick in the right direction, she is on a plane.

Stella is not built for adventure, so she does not dive into the magic of Paris. Instead, she lives like she is in New York, hiding out in familiar places and taking no risks. Walking around town, she stumbles upon a vintage shop, and the shopkeeper sees something inside this quiet mouse of a woman. There, on the spot, she fits her in a dress that is perfect for her. It’s Dior. As I was reading this, I had just finished watching “The New Look” on Apple TV+, which showed how Parisian fashion designers navigated World War II and where couture went from there. So when there is a Christian Dior dress in the book that is called by name, I knew the history of him doing that and pictured him designing the dress in which Stella has been outfitted.

Once dressed (and yes, you can think Cinderella here), Stella is on the road to adventure. Suddenly, she is taken under the wing of an older gentleman --- he’s an art collector --- who sees her potential and begins to school her in everything from oysters to fine wine. Plus, she is introduced to the best of Paris’s literary heroes, art and so much great food. I never liked the taste of foie gras, but this book made me want to try it again.

We watch Stella gain her wings and begin to be part of the city. At Shakespeare & Company, she finds camaraderie and people who embrace her. She’s reluctant to be one of the “tumbleweeds” who inhabit the store and often sleep in the upstairs area, but she is caught up in the easy friendship that they share. As time goes on, she feels her way into a group of people and a way of life that she realizes does befit her. Oh, and there is a mystery that is solved as well --- one that she has always wondered about. There are layers and layers of storytelling and discovery.

By the time you finish reading this book, you may find yourself buying a plane ticket and heading to the airport to seek out your own adventure.

Ahead of reading this, I knew THE PARIS NOVEL was a book that the late Susan Kamil, who had been Ruth’s longtime editor, had wanted her to write. Ruth really delivered. My book group will be discussing this one next, and I look forward to our conversation. We will need wine and some brilliantly special tidbits to eat. Is it rude to slurp an oyster at book group?

The Paris Novel
by Ruth Reichl