Friday, April 15, 2011
Publisher/Format: Reagan Arthur Books (2011), Hardcover, 288 pages
Characters: Trevor Stratton, Louise Brunet
Subject: mementos in a box
Genre: a puzzle mystery or a mysterious puzzle?
Source: ARC from the publisher
One of the most innovative, imaginative novels I've read in a long time, 13 rue Thérèse is a story within a story, a puzzle, a mystery, and a charming portrait of Paris from World War I through WW II, and up to the present.
Elena Mauli Shapiro, the author actually lived at this address, and found a box of 'treasures' long abandoned there. There's a wonderful conversation on the books webpage where she explains how she came to write the story Using the contents of the treasure box--old pictures, playbills, postcards, lace gloves, a scarf, a rosary, a crucifix necklace, etc--she rebuilds the story of Louise and Henri Brunet the previous occupants. But she also gives us the story of Trevor Stratton, the contemporary American researcher who 'discovers' the box, after it is planted by the office secretary Josianne, and his strange reactions to the artifacts as he writes about them. This part of the story-- the relationship between Trevor and Josianne, and his letters to an unnamed "Dear Sir" are the weakest part of the story, but not weak enough to detract from the overall weave of the story.
We are treated to unrequited love, illicit love, an everyday marriage, and a bizarre compilation of coincidences, conflicts and puzzles. We have a wonderful picture of Paris in the 1930's, of women's roles in that period between the two World Wars. It's amazing, fun, and thought-provoking. In addition, Ms. Shapiro has given us a series of QR codes (I had to look that one up!): "Quick response codes" that readers who have such an app on their smart phones can use to bring up enhanced pictures of the treasures in the box. For those of us who don't have such up-to-date skills and/or technologies, there are enhanced photos, audio and video clips available on the books webpage. It's a veritable treasure box itself. Here's just one example- Louise's scarf:
It's a tough book to categorize or summarize, just as working a puzzle is difficult to explain. It's a book that is to be experienced rather than read. There is quite a bit of french in the story, but the author does an admirable job of translating without disturbing the flow of the story. I hope you have a chance to immerse yourself in this one sooner rather than later.
Many thanks to Regan Arthur books for providing a review copy.