The year is 1989. The place is Paris. Willie Pears has moved to France to be with her brother, Luke, and begins teaching immigrant girls who are hoping for asylum in this new country. What follows is a moving story of hopes, fears and the ways we connect with each other so that we don’t have to go through it alone.
I’ve read Susan Conley’s debut work – The Foremost Good Fortune, and was quite impressed. Conley’s first novel, Paris was the Place, is a good effort. There are many high points to this novel. First – I just love Conley’s beautiful, vivid writing. She is so descriptive – from the sights and smells, you really imagine you are in the various sections of Paris or India. I enjoyed the inclusion of poetry – it’s obvious the author has a love for this art form. Second, there are several story lines here. From the immigrant girls’ desperate attempts to stay in France, Luke’s AIDS diagnosis, the blossoming love story between Willie and Macon, and even the pursuit of an Indian poet’s original manuscripts, I was drawn in and actually left wanting more. Because I was wanting more, I kept expecting the author to connect these stories somehow with a major theme. Is there one? It could be about family and relationships, it could be about needing others, it could be about the hard blows life deals you. But I couldn’t really be sure. Every reviewer chooses a different theme and Conley appears to be elusive in revealing what she had in mind.
I will say that there was one particular element that really impressed me. I was a young twenty-something during that time period. I had been to Paris then. And when I read Conley’s book, I was transported back in time, and brought to a place that reminded me of what it was like then. Through this novel, I relived the experience in a multi-sensory way. And Conley was dead-on right about what it was like. That is a real talent, and in my experience, very few authors are able to master it.
I’m so glad I got the chance to read Paris was the Place. As I said, it’s a good first novel, giving us a glimpse of what Susan Conley is capable of. I’m looking forward with anticipation to her next novel.
3 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2013