By Carly Braden
Paris, for author Deirdre Kelly, is something of a contradiction: at once it calls to her, beckons her to visit and behold its beauties and treasures, but it also holds her at arm’s length, perpetually making her feel like an outsider. Throughout each of Kelly’s eight visits to the city of her dreams, the constant remains her deep desire to feel a sense of belonging, to feel she is a parisienne. Instead of finding acceptance from the city, however, she finds instead a much deeper and more valuable acceptance from herself.
From her first trip to Paris, a summer spent as an au pair when she was just nineteen, Kelly came to long for the city she imagined held the key to coming into her own as a woman. She returned seven more times, as a wannabe novelist following her undergrad, as a budding entertainment writer at the Globe and Mail, with her mother, as an embattled dance critic, a fiancée, a fashion writer, and finally, as a mother herself. Though her visits varied in their circumstances and in the happiness (or misery) they brought her, the city itself remained a shining beacon, a constant source of light despite the darkness she sometimes glimpsed beneath the historic landmarks, within the narrow alleys and passageways, coursing through the tumultuous Seine, and in herself and those around her.
In Kelly’s book, Paris comes alive as a character: detailed descriptions abound as Kelly captures the depth, vivacity, and uniqueness of Paris that its champions strive to relate to those who have never experienced it. While I didn’t feel much affection towards Kelly as a protagonist,at times finding her tiresome and ungrateful, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of vicarious embarrassment when she boldly tries to cut the awkwardness with a former fling by dropping to her knees in a less-than-charmingly rundown hotel room while her companion rushes to cover himself – talk about seduction gone wrong.
For me, the strongest aspect of the book was the city: I have been only once, and while I loved my visit, I have often felt that having seen it, I could let it slide down my list of places to go, to return to it after traveling to other places I’ve never been. I found that the greatest accomplishment of Paris Times Eight was its power to rouse in me the longing and hunger for Paris that drove Kelly for nearly thirty years. So, get reading – I’ll meet you at the airport.
Want to feed your need for Paris but can’t afford to get there just now? Make sure to keep reading Recent Grad for all of writer Emily’s adventures in the City of Lights!