A few months ago Mary Lynn and I went to a small book shop to attend a reading by Eloisa James. We didn’t realize just how small the bookshop was and, thus, what a small intimate gathering it was with her. There couldn’t have been more than 20 people in attendance gathered around her and it was a wonderful evening of talking, listening to her read, and asking questions.
I am a big fan of Eloisa James’s romance novels (historical-funny and clever) and didn’t even know at the time what the deal was with this book. Well, it turns out that after a bout with cancer she had a bit of a mid-life crisis and decided to get away from it all. She and her husband took sabbaticals (they are both academics), they sold their home in New Jersey, their cars, many of their possessions, and packed up their children (aged 11 and 15) and moved to Paris. [Note: One of my very favorite childhood books was Family Sabbatical by Carol Ryrie Brink, about a family whose father takes a sabbatical and they live in Paris for a year. That book was quite different, but amusingly enough, a few of the things were the same, such as seeking the comfort of American food when feeling down. Charming book-go read it.]This book is about that year in Paris. But what sets it apart from other memoirs, and what I really liked about it, is that while there are a few essays throughout the book, it is mostly a collection of memories, anecdotes, or observations ranging from a couple sentences to a couple paragraphs long.
It seems like I should hate this book because my attitude towards Eat, Pray, Love (a book which I have not actually read) is “oh boo hoo you felt bad and so you got to go gallivant around eating and drinking being exotic and then write a book about it and make it all be a business expense that pays you back.” And in truth, Eloisa’s time in Paris is certainly able to happen due to a certain level of wealth and many of the things they do are beyond well, certainly my own means, such as buying artisanal chocolates and French lingerie and sending kids to French and Italian tennis camp and on and on. But I suppose I just sort of accepted at the outset that this would be a very rosy picture of what it would be like to be wealthy and multi-lingual (her husband is Italian, so they are already accustomed to spending lots of time abroad) and so on. And also I just really like her and think she has a great way with words, so it did not offend me.
The book gives the impression of her being able to just walk around Paris for hours observing beautiful things and then writing them down in the most poetic way. For example, “Today is rainy, cool, and windy. The sky is silvery gray, like the watered skirts of a Victorian lady, long widowed, and still regretful.” I mean, that’s just beautiful. Not everything is like that, though. There are many very funny observations on French life and her children’s mishaps as they negotiate school in a foreign country. It seems to me a wonderful, unique way, to preserve and remember a time. Not a straightforward daily journal, but capturing certain memories and moments. As a reader I found it a treat to read, and I can’t help but think that for her family it will eventually be a real treasure in remembering that year. As the book wrapped up I found myself wanting them to not leave because it seemed like such a magical existence, but they did and they are back in NYC.