Sunday, March 20, 2011

13 rue Thérèse

I have just finished reading this wonderful book:
13 rue Thérèse, by Elena Mauli Shapiro
Here is the lowdown directly from the author's website:

When I was a little girl growing up in Paris in the early eighties, an old woman who lived a few floors up from my apartment died alone.  Her name was Louise Brunet.  None of her remaining relatives came to fetch her belongings, so the landlord had to clear them all out.  He let the other tenants in the building scavenge through her stuff and take home silverware, jewelry, whatever they wanted.  My mother salvaged a small box filled with mementos: old love letters from WWI, mesh church gloves, dried flowers, a rosary—many objects worth nothing but memories.  This box is the sepulcher of Louise Brunet’s heart.  As I have carried it through life and across the world, I have always intended to write a book out of it.
This book, a novel titled 13 rue Therese, now exists, published by Little, Brown.  The central story concerns a fictionalized Louise Brunet, who is a married-but-childless piano teacher with a propensity for giving false confessions to priests and other small acts of mischief.  She lost her lover during WWI, and in an attempt to revive the excitement of that relationship, she is quite tempted to have an affair with a new man who moves into her building, named Xavier Langlais.  The narrative frame for the story is named Trevor Stratton, a contemporary American academic working in Paris who comes across Louise’s box of mementos.  Studying the objects has a strange effect on him, and in a fever he channels what may or may not be the life of Louise Brunet over a two-week time period in November of 1928.
The book is laid out around photographs (clues) of the various momentos and letters. We savour the mystery, gradually revealed. With sadness and passion and humour (I so much enjoyed the mischief wrought by Louise in the confessional) there is a merging of past and present, a blurring of the timeline that connects us with those long gone. We are aware that we are not so different from those who preceded us.

The website for the book is an adventure in itself, with photographs and videos and even a nudge in the direction of a recipe. Book and website: both highly recommended!