The Last Time I Saw Paris, by Elizabeth Adler

>> Tuesday, September 21, 2004

I used to read Elizabeth Adler years ago, when I basically read whatever books in English my local bookstore decided to stock. Her novels were the "From the streets of Paris, to the luxurious mansions of turn-of-the-century San Francisco" kind, huge stories covering entire decades, full of glitz and glamour and larger-than-life villains. Not my kind of thing at all. Lately, though, it seems she's taken to writing stories about either living or traveling in Europe, books which sound a bit more like what I like. My mom still buys everything Adler writes, and lent me The Last Time I Saw Paris.

Paris: the most romantic city on earth. A place of second honeymoons and newly discovered passions. A banquet of tastes, sounds, sights, and smells. And for Lara Lewis, it is the place where she and her husband once experienced love at its best. Now, it is a place where fortysomething Lara believes she can rekindle her marriage. She plans the most romantic adventure: to retrace her first honeymoon with her husband. Visit the same sights. Eat in the same restaurants. Explore the same villages. But when her surgeon husband tells her at the last minute that the marriage is over-- there's another woman--Lara's heart is broken...almost.

Somewhere along the road of life, Lara has lost herself. But Lara makes a bold move: she decides to invite a man she hardly knows to take the trip with her. A man much younger than she. A man who is out of her usual realm. What follows is a madcap romantic adventure that begins with missed connections, lost luggage, and language barriers, and ends up being one woman's journey to find herself and the love that has eluded her all her life.
This one sounded very promising: Woman whose husband of 25 years is leaving her for a younger woman doesn't mope around, but go on a tour of France with her younger lover. Unfortunately, the execution wasn't that good, and my grade for it would be a C.

My main problem with it was the characterization. Adler has a way of showing her characters' thought processes that is almost childishly simple and she relies on telling us how they are feeling about things rather than showing us. This made it hard for the characters to come alive. Also, I did like Dan (though he was a bit too good to be true), but Lara irritated me with her continuous doubts. One minute she's convinced that Dan is the love of her life, very sure that leaving Bill was the right thing to do and the next she's having second thoughts about whether she shouldn't go back to her husband. I'd understand a bit of this, because obviously it's not a decision that's a piece of cake, but her constant wavering and her treating Dan one minute cold and the next hot tired me.

As for the romance, I wasn't bothered myself with the fact that Dan and Lara's is an adulterous relationship, but the way they went into it and were suddenly "in love", both of them, didn't ring true. And also, I'm sorry, but the fact that she's taking him on what was supposed to be her Second Honeymoon, one paid for by her husband's money, felt really, really tacky.

As a travel book, it wasn't perfect, either. Lara and Dan's trip is meticulously described... too meticulously described. We find out which road they took, where exactly they got lost for a little while and so on, things that made some parts a little tiresome. And Adler's idea of making the setting come alive is gushing about how beautiful it is. Yes, it is beautiful, and I admit the descriptions are nice, but reading this felt like an acquaintance telling me at mind-numbing length about the trip she took last month. There is a kind of vicarious pleasure in reading about people going to beautiful places and eating delicious food, but Adler goes a bit overboard.

If it were mine, this is a book I'd keep, not for the story, but as reference for some pointers to plan a future trip to France!


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