Rating: 5 stars
We went to Paris for my birthday last October. In preparation, I wanted to read a novel set in the city and a popular history of the city. I didn’t choose wisely with the popular history, but I had more joy with the novel. I’d sensibly gone to the Shakespeare and Company website and checked out staff member Camille Racine’s bookshelf French titles for the Uninitiated for ideas. I picked out Life: A User’s Manual based on its description.
It’s a wonderful puzzle of a book, with pieces of people’s stories slotting together. It’s no coincidence that jigsaws, crosswords and recursive images are scattered throughout the narrative. I loved the structure of the story, the setting of the apartment block and the way the inhabitants were gradually inventoried, their stories unfurling. At times it made me think of Wes Anderson films, with their compartments and vignettes. I wonder if he has read this novel. I felt sad when it ended. I enjoyed getting to know the inhabitants of this Parisian apartment block. They led extraordinary lives. And it prepared me very well for our stay in an apartment in Montmartre, too.