Friday, February 11, 2011

13, RUE THERESE by Elena Mauli Shapiro

I am very picky about the books that I buy. I rarely buy books on impulse anymore. However, I bought this one sight unseen. The premise sounded so intriguing and I decided I had to give it a shot.  Back in the early nineties, I was a huge GRIFFIN AND SABINE fan. I loved the stories and the books were beautiful. But the best part was the feeling of getting to read someone else's correspondance. There is something so special about letters. Something that e-mail will never be able to capture.  When I read the description of 13, RUE THERESE, it made me think of those GRIFFIN AND SABINE books.
A young American scholar in Paris named Trevor Stratton finds a box filled with objects and letters dating back to WWII that belonged to a woman named Louise Brunet.  As Trevor combs through the postcards, love letters and other vintage items in the box, he becomes obsessed with Louise Stratton's life and tries to reconstruct what happened to her.  The items are all realistically reproduced within the book making the reader feel as if she is looking through the items with Trevor.
I loved the idea of this book much more than the execution. I really liked how Trevor attempted to reconstruct Louise's life through the things she left behind and, in doing so, allowed us to imagine Louise's life as well. However, there is a bizarre romantic angle with a secretary that didn't really make sense. There were also a few "magical" moments that also seemed strange.  It wasn't clear whether Trevor was actually time-traveling or simply imagining things. It just didn't work. Although Louise's story was compelling and the objects were wonderful, the whole book felt like a big confused mess.
BOTTOM LINE: Not recommended.  A great idea and a great-looking book but the whole thing is ultimately a big confusing mess.

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