Bon Voyage

Life is all about balance, right? Well, it definitely applies to literature. At a few points this year, I found myself emotionally affected by books I was reading. The human experience can be some deep shit, and when you’re living it every day, you don’t always want it in your literature. Here Comes the Sun, Normal People, and A Little Life have all had profound effects on my moods and emotions, and I had to quickly proceed these books with fun picks that would distract me from literary chaos and that which exists in the real world.

For the first time in years, though, I recently had to stop a book in the middle of it and find something else as a distraction. Reading two books at once isn’t really a concept my brain understands, but it was something I desperately needed in November. After Kyle and I witnessed a tragedy outside our apartment, my mental health just couldn’t endure Yaa Gyasi‘s powerful and emotional second novel Transcendent Kingdom.

So I scoured available chick lit novels at my library while halfway through Gyasi’s book. I really wanted to continue it, but I knew my heart and brain couldn’t. Eventually I landed on a Jojo Moyes novel: Paris for One. Now, I had some trepidations about this pick. I’ve only read Moyes’ Louisa Clark series, which I loved, and The Giver of Stars, which gave me “meh” lit feels. My skepticism had less to do with her so-so latest book and more to do with the fact that Me Before You almost had me in tears on the subway. Yes, I would generally consider Moyes’ novels to live in the chick lit realm, but her books certainly aren’t devoid of sadness. (News flash: Chick lit isn’t all fluff!) Was this a risk worth taking when my mental health was already teetering?

Nell may be as Type A as they come. Not only does she plan out everything, but she also follows routines like she’s physically attached to them. Even her co-workers notice the very specific phrase she says every Tuesday to the same person when she splurges on the same snack. She takes the same annual trip with her girlfriends where they stay at the same hotel on the same weekend and do the same activities. (Is the word “same” sounding funny to you yet?)

Nell doesn’t have a spontaneous bone in her body.

She’s also tight with money and has never been to Paris or on a romantic getaway — two things that made me feel really sad for this British woman. Naturally, when her boyfriend (aka Douche McGouche) bails on their Paris vacation that Nell had excitedly and so meticulously planned, she instantly tries to catch a train back to London.

A persnickety and expensive train schedule keep her in Paris longer than she’d like until she meets a hunky, hopeless-romantic Parisian writer (of course he’s a writer) who shows her that spontaneity and adventure may just cure all of her blues and wash away all of her fears.

(Let’s pause here for a second to really call out Douche McGouche who bails on Nell when she’s already in Paris. Men can be such jerks.)

If you think this synopsis sounds cheesy and cliché, then you are thinking correctly. But that’s the point. This book was never supposed to be life-changing or profess some intense message through profound themes. That’s exactly what I didn’t want. My emotions were running extremely high when I settled on Paris for One, and I needed an escape. And an escape is exactly what I got with this book.

I enjoyed Nell’s character arc and reading about her constant internal struggles — not to mention the figurative middle finger she gives to Douche McGouche. Plus, Moyes takes us to Paris, and her writing really does bring the city alive. Even though I’ve sadly never visited the City of Light, I could envision it in every scene and very clearly see every character. Moyes really can deliver a fun and entertaining work of fiction that lives clearly in your mind.

“I realized pretty quickly I couldn’t marry a man without a bookshelf.”

Paris for One and other stories

Paris for One would totally receive four flames. It’s the and Other Stories that brings this one down for me.

Honestly, I had no idea when I borrowed this book that it contained anything other than Nell’s Paris adventure. I’ll shoulder the blame for that considering the title tells me to expect short stories, but I really didn’t understand what was happening when I got to this part of the book. Admittedly, I had to Google the book to see what the heck was going on. (This happens more than I care to admit when I read a book.)

The other stories aren’t bad per se. They actually follow a similar narrative with similar themes as Nell’s stories. Although every story is different, they all explore various aspects and adventures (both good and bad) of romantic and sexual relationships. And they’re all cheeky, cute, and not the best (but certainly not the worst) thing you’ve ever read.

So it’s not that I disliked the short stories in themselves but more as a concept. You may have broken me on the memoir genre, but I’ve yet to crack on short stories. Plus, the idea of attaching novellas at the end of a novel seemed a little odd to me. Give me a novel that’s a little more fleshed out — Nell certainly deserved a bit more — and then publish a book of short stories that this bibliophile will most certainly not read. No disrespect!

I can confidently say, though, that the risk of sadness and depression (and some “meh” qualities) from a Moyes’ book paid off. Was Paris for One the most gripping, well-written, and fun book I’ve ever read? Far from it. But did it distract me just enough while I overcame an emotional block? Absolutely. I came out from that block feeling healthy and strong (I was able to finish Transcendent Kingdom after all), and I did so partially thanks to an average book with just enough fun, fluff, and entertainment. Sometimes that’s all we need.

“And as she walks, in a city of strangers, her nostrils filled with the scent of street food, her ears filled with an unfamiliar language, she feels something unexpected wash through her. She feels connected, alive.”

Paris for One and other stories

4 thoughts on “Bon Voyage

  1. Pingback: At Least We Were Electrified | Big Little Literature

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