Among the books I recently nabbed from the new collections shelves at the UT library was this one.
I did read the front flap for the story synopsis, but happily did not read the back flap with the author’s bio before getting most of the way through the novel. If you haven’t read it yet (the novel, not the back flap!), then this is your official spoiler alert.
The story is centered around the “find” of a box of mementos from an earlier era, which sparks the curiosity of the “finder” – an American professor come to teach in Paris for a while. It weaves back and forth from his “research” into the source of each memento and his commentary about them, and the actual story in its original era. He gets drawn into their narrative just as the reader gets drawn into the novel – a nice parallel.
Throughout the book, illustrating the “story”, are scanned images of the “original” letters, photos, small objects (gloves and keys and such). A few examples here:
You can see all the items in the “collection” at the novel’s website as well.
The first one featured in the book is a letter from Camille to his cousin, written in French, and I was thrilled to sit there and decipher the tiny text, reading (and understanding!) in French for the first time in a long-ish while. And then immediately after the professor provides his own English translation, so when the cursive is too cramped or blurry, it is pleasant to have that to fall back on.
I got to within 10 pages of the end of the novel before turning to the back flap to read about the author, and it was at that time that I learned that the mementos themselves are nearly all authentic, and belonged to an elderly neighbor of the author. This added an extra dimension to the story, and made me care about the characters involved (some real people) so much more. It also shed a little light on why there were sometimes “artifacts” with notes next to them (I thought those were N.B.s from the fictional professor, not the real author!) Sometimes I’m a little slow…
Overall, the book reminded me a bit of the Griffin and Sabine series that I remember my stepmother reading back when I was a wee lass in NJ. I may go back and try to find those and read them as well, now I’m feeling curious…