Judging a Book by Its Cover

Book review: The House in Paris

I’ll admit it. I judged this book by its cover.

The cover was the only reason I picked it up at my local used bookstore, Chamblins aka If Heaven Were Made of Bookshelves (and I hope it is). I had never heard of it, but the cover reminded me of a piece of artwork I might hang in my house – if there was actually room left on my walls. It didn’t hurt that the word Paris was in the title.

The book winds from the present (post WWI) to the past (a decade prior) and back again to the present. The “present” sections of the book take place in a single day, which is an interesting perspective. I am, at times, wary of books that unfold over a major passage of time.

The seemingly main character, Henrietta, is introduced as a traveling 11-year-old who is to spend the day at her grandmother’s friend’s house in Paris waiting for her next train. Her one-day stay turns into a somewhat thrilling journey into the private lives of everyone in that house. So much so that it remains hard for me to pick a single protagonist.

Leopold, a bastard child who was put up for adoption, is introduced as young boy waiting to meet his biological mother for the first time. I will admit; I was not a fan of his character. Though only nine, he seemed angry and overly willing to leave his adoptive parents in Italy for a new life with a woman he had never met.

To make a long story (actually a novel…) short, a trip through the past unfolds the secret that Leopold’s mother had an affair with her friend’s (owner of this house in Paris) fiancé. Enter Leo.

All of the characters seem flawed, save Henrietta. They all have their own agenda, ranging from selfishness to overboard selflessness (and I’m honestly not sure which is worse). Though happy to be on her way, Henrietta leaves the house smiling…perhaps thrilled to know that she was the only sane one in that entire house.

Don’t we all feel that way sometimes?

“Untrodden rocky canyons or virgin forests cannot be more entrapping than the inside of a house, which shows you what life is.” – The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen


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