It’s the book launch this evening of Lisa Appignanesi’s novel Paris Requiem and so I thought it perfect timing to showcase this book, book trail style. The book launch is taking place at the Freud Museum in London – how very apt for the backdrop and for the atmosphere of the foreboding but ornate building. I have visited this museum before and now having read the book and putting the two together – well it gives me a few literary thrills without even being there. Official site of this Polish born author – http://www.lisaappignanesi.com/ who has lived and worked in Montreal – a city I know well so this was another reason why I was so keen to read this book. She is also an author with a Canadian link, an interest in France and an interest in a true political scandal I first came across at university – Allow me to accompany you through her Paris …..
From the very first paragraph we are thrust into the dirty, gritty, raw side of the city –
“Paris sizzled with the spectres of past and future danger. The Gare Saint-Lazare was a hellhole. The air burned. Engines hissed. smoke billowed. Whistles shrieked. Trains clanged and clattered like weary mechanical beasts. Everywhere was heat and noise and the crush of humanity.”
It is a superbly well-written psychological mystery with the social ills and political intrigue of the time adding a depth and breadth that add to the overall plot –
James Norton is sent by his mother from the US to Paris to bring home his wayward brother Raphael and sister Ellie. When he arrives however, Raphael’s lover, Olympe has died under mysterious circumstances and the sister, Ellie, is ill, unable to leave her room. James helps his brother investigate what really happened to Olympe who was a Jewish actress, whilst at the same time helping his sister recover.
The fact that the family is jewish is central to the plot since the Paris of 1899 was a hot bed of anti-semitism. The Dreyfus Affair was at its peak –
This was a political scandal which divided France – a French officer of Jewish descent was sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly having given French military secrets to the German embassy in Paris. When evidence later came to light that he may be innocent, this was not the end of his nightmare and the Dreyfus affair became the modern and universal symbol of injustice and more importantly a significant role was said to be played by the press and public opinion.
Flags and banners billowed above massed heads. Bullhorns blared a torrent of words he couldn’t quite make out. But he could read the banners –
‘Death to the traitor Dreyfus, The German’s lackey.’ ‘No to the re-trial.’ ‘Long live the French Army.’
Politics and plot aside, Paris Requiem introduces us to another side of Paris – the colourful world of the theatre compared to the clinical atmosphere of the hospitals. We attend sumptuous dinner parties of the wealthy and influential and then are plunged into the stark horror of the asylum and what goes on there. Maybe not the Paris we would want to see on a tour there ourselves but how amazing it is to be transported there from the safety of our armchair:
Here at the Salpêtrière, our signifant number of Jews present us with a unique opportunity to investigate a hereditary pool – not only through our inmates, but their relations.
The Vaudeville, curving letters on the iron-columned portico announced. It was the theatre at which Olympe had last played.
It was the risque story of a triangle….., their joint passion fed by romantic poetry…
Lisa Appignanesi has written an account of a powerful exploration of a family’s story, hidden secrets, Jewish people in France and a brother’s search for the truth. It is also an insight into the role and situation of women at the time.
The novel is a thriller concoction with a generous helping of intrigue, a measure of political scandal, a sprinkling of dubious characters, mixed up with grimy Paris streets, asylum horrors and one man’s quest to find out the truth.
Enjoy the ride into the dark side of Paris.
To visit the site of the book launch – http://www.freud.org.uk/
To enjoy the nicer and more tasty side of the Vaudeville environment – http://www.vaudevilleparis.com/en/
And once again – be sure to visit http://www.lisaappignanesi.com/