AUTHOR: EDWARD RUTHERFURD
PUBLISHER: HODDER & STOUGHTON
BLURB FROM THE COVER
City of love.
City of splendour.
City of terror.
City of dreams.
Inspired by the haunting, passionate story of the city of lights, this epic novel weaves a gripping tale of four families across the centuries: from the lies that spawn the noble line of de Cygne to the revolutionary Le Sourds who seek their destruction; from the Blanchards whose bourgeois respectability offers scant protection against scandal to the hard-working Gascons and their soaring ambitions.
Over hundreds of years, these four families are bound by forbidden loves and marriages of convenience; dogged by vengeance and murderous secrets; torn apart by the irreconcilable differences of birth and faith, and brought together by the tumultuous history of their city. Paris bursts to life in the intrigue, corruption and glory of its people.
Paris. City of love. City of dreams. City of splendour. City of saints and scholars. City of gaiety. Stink of iniquity. In two thousand years, Paris has seen it all.
I loved Paris, absolutely loved it. Rutherfurd made me fall in love with my favourite city in the world all over again. Rutherfurd has helped complete my conversion to a fan, however reluctant of historical fiction.
STRUCTURE: Rutherfurd uses a non-linear structure in Paris. The story shifts in and out of over 700 years of Paris history. The oldest period Rutherford covers is 1291 right up to1968. Each chapter states the year at the start so you know where you are in time. I’m used to reading novels that have time shifts so had no issue with this. I don’t think I’ve read a novel that covers such a large period of time. If Rutherfurd hadn’t sign-posted the year each chapter was set in so well it would have been easy to be confused. Rutherfurd covers the history of four families. So as well as moving back and forth and time the perspective of each chapter alternates between the characters for each family. This works well in Paris. I liked the fact Rutherfurd doesn’t spend a huge amount of time with each family and just whets your appetite before the point of view and year shifts. This made me want to read on.
PLACE: Rutherfurd does a brilliant job at bringing the city of Paris to life. I loved reading about some of the places I visited when I spent a week there brought to vivid life. Rutherfurd’s rendering of the city is vivid, impressive and memorable. One of my favourite sections comes about 1/3 of the way through Paris. Thomas Gascon works as part of the team that builds the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower. I really enjoyed this part of the novel. I’ve been up the Eiffel Tower and just really enjoyed reading about it being built and becoming the place I visited. I don’t think there is a part of the city Rutherford doesn’t visit in Paris. I was completely absorbed in the sense of place Rutherfurd creates. The city is the central character in Paris. This reminded me of a novel I read a few months ago, NW by Zadie Smith where London is the main character.
CHARACTERISATION: There are a lot of characters in Paris. A large cast is unavoidable for a big, epic historical novel like Paris. There are actually less characters than I was expecting. You spend hundreds of pages with various members of the four families. Rutherfurd does a great job of making his character real. They were all real and very human and flawed. One of my favourite characters was Luc Gascon. He is only child when he is first introduced and all sweet and innocent. He develops over the course of the novel to become quite a nasty piece of work. He ‘accidentally’ kills a prostitute (read that as murder) and persuades his other brother Thomas to help him dispose of the body. He uses blackmail and violence to turn Marc Blanchard’s illegitimate daughter into a prostitute and a madam of a high class brother. He gets his comeuppance. I loved how Rutherfurd develops all of the characters over the course of Paris. The characters are not directly involved in any of the historical events which was a bit of a pity.
PLOT: I don’t think there is any part of Paris history Rutherfurd doesn’t cover in Paris. The French Revolution is touched on. The Black Death has a small role. Rutherfurd even pays a visit to The French Wars of Religion. We spend some time with the Industrial Revolution and World War I and II. Paris is a sprawling, epic novel. Rutherfurd has some balls to tackle something so ambiguous. One of the pitfalls of historical novels is the limitations of originality. You can’t let your imagination completely run free when you’re writing about things that actually happened. Rutherfurd choosing to explore the city through generations of four families works really well. I’m not a history buff so had almost no or limited knowledge of some of the events Rutherfurd describes. This made it a very original reading experience for me.
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