Left Bank – Kate Muir

I came to buy this book because, dare I say it, the cover was pretty. I admit this is not the best reasoning! But for my love of Paris and the Eiffel Tower I couldn’t resist. So with high hopes of experiencing a snapshot into Parisian life I made my purchase.

If I am perfectly honest I feel a bit sad about this book. The blurb promised excitement and drama, but for me it just fell short on delivery. It lacked the wow factor I was looking for. It also tells me more than enough when it’s lived on my shelf for so long I can’t even remember when I bought it. At least 12 months ago? Maybe more?

The novel focuses on Madison and Oliver Malin – the ‘it’ couple of the Left Bank. Madison is an actress, and fully embodies the stereotype of that at the beginning of the novel in particular. Oliver is a philosopher with many followers and admirers. However he also has enemies for his views and writing on particular topics (Chechnya in particular.) They have a rather adorable little girl called Sabine who is full of smart and perceptive one liners regarding her parents.

In the public eye they appear to be the perfect couple. There is a lot of smiling for magazines for example! However, behind closed doors it is a completely different, if not polar opposite story. Oliver believes they are in a mutual open marriage where he has the freedom to explore any of his passions. Whereas Madison believes that she must always keep up appearances (she lives on a diet of cigarettes rather than food) and considers having an affair because everyone in Paris seems to be doing so.

This behind the scenes element I really find interesting. We never really know what happens behind closed doors. When something seems to be perfect on the surface you can almost guarantee it is nothing like that underneath, just like this relationship. I do think however that this could be played out more in the novel to make readers uncomfortable enough to question their own lives.

Somewhat stereotypically Sabine is left with the nanny. Anna: Young, trendy, opinionated with almost fluent French from the father who left her. Anna is the character I love most in this novel. She is the one that evokes change (strangely enough the one thing I hate!) I genuinely find her interesting and wanted to read more about her character. Sadly, we only learn a bit about her childhood, her job and why she came to France. Most importantly to the plot we learn about the affair she has with Oliver and towards the end the rumoured secret baby. She’s hardly given a voice at the end of the novel which I think is a missed opportunity.

This novel is the embodiment of chick lit. It features the snarky woman, the egotistical man. But it does attempt to go beyond that. The heavy focus on philosophy move it away from the chick lit genre, blurring it with other genres. The philosophy was interesting, but slightly repetitive.

I hate to admit this as well but I found myself trying to speed up reading it, not because I was engaged with it, but because I just wanted it over. The elements I did enjoy weren’t enough to leave me feeling like the whole experience of this book was a good one. It could have been developed so much more as a novel. Even a shortlived disappearance, suicide, burglary and love affairs all over couldn’t keep me enthralled. However, I did enjoy the food descriptions. The meat. The cheese. Mmm. I really missed the French food when I was reading this book.

On the whole I would describe it as an OK book with a pretty cover design. I’m glad I read it, but I wouldn’t race someone down the street to obtain the last copy.

BL x

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