Monday, February 22, 2016

Lunch in Paris - Elizabeth Bard (Lunch in Paris #1)

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with RecipesI came to this book a bit out of order; it's Bard's first book, taking the form of a memoir about her life and romance in Paris, but I read her second book, Picnic in Provence (which continues on in the same format, but about her move to Provence) first.  While Picnic was nice, dealing with Bard's move to the country, her husband's struggles with his job, the birth and raising of her child, and so on, it was a bit domestic for me.  Not that I don't like domestic; I'm a pretty domestic person myself.  But generally, when I read a book, I want to read about someone different than me.  So when I realized that Bard had written another book that dealt with her life before she settled down into motherhood and such, I was intrigued.  There's something just so romantic about love stories in Paris, don't you think?  I certainly do.  So when I saw that the library had this one available for Kindle loan, I snapped it up!

The book is formatted like a memoir, with each chapter focusing on a theme or event and ended with a handful (generally 2-4) recipes that tie in with the chapter.  Holidays, outings, changes in life...all of these things are included.  The "story" itself, as it is, is fairly chronological.  Bard is in Paris, has a date, sleeps with the guy (which does not normally do, she is sure to emphasize) and, in relatively short order, finds herself in a committed relationship and moving to Paris, to her boyfriend's tiny studio apartment that doesn't even have built-in heat.  Seriously.  They have to use a space heater for everything.  That does sound...not so romantic...but the rest of it, the food, the markets, the sights, all have this mist of glamour over it that I think most people who haven't ever been to Paris see in their heads when they imagine the City of Lights.  I certainly get it in my head.  Bard has a light sense of humor, nothing too sharp or too deep, and this is a light read.  There are a few heavier events, such as death or the deep, deep loneliness that can come with being immersed in a culture that is not your own, with no one else who belongs to your native culture, but it's not a very thought-provoking book.

The one thing that drove me absolutely crazy here was the same thing as in Picnic: sometimes Bard writes in present-tense, and sometimes she writes in past-tense.  The tenses even change within the same chapter.  It's a memoir; pretty much everything in it is going to be past-tense, and the lack of standardization here is mind-boggling.  Even if Bard wrote it in a mix--which I understand, because when you play around with styles or write at different times, things sometimes come out differently--her editor should have made sure the tenses were standardized before the book went into production.

Bard's struggles to find employment and a sense of purpose while in France are much more apparent in this book than in the second one, probably because by the second one, she had it mostly figured out.  It doesn't have the quirky aspect of starting a business, but it has more of a self-exploratory tone, and definitely a tone of exploring Paris.  But at the same time, Bard sometimes makes herself feel more like a side character than a main character in the book, because while other people are doing interesting things--when Gwendal is digitizing European cinema, his father is making wonderful art, and so on--Bard just goes to the market and cooks, over and over again.  Now, I get that this was reality--but it's also a book, and sometimes things need to be weighted a little more evenly.  This gets tied together some as Bard reaches a sort of identity crisis--why can't she spend all her life food shopping and cooking?--but the repeated episodes can tend to drag a bit.  They're thankfully broken up by other things, but the monotony is there in the background, dragging on an don.

Overall, I don't think I liked this better or worse than Picnic.  It was a cute memoir, with the same style as Picnic; I can't really say that I think Bard evolved much as a writer between the two.  Paris is, I think, generally a more intriguing setting than the town of Cereste, but most of things Bard did weren't as interesting.  It's a delicate balance, and I don't think she's quite hit it yet--but then again, it's probably hard to strike that balance precisely in life, too.

Just like Picnic, I give it 3.5 stars out of 5.

This book also fulfilled my Popsugar Reading Challenge 2016 category of "A book set in Europe."  Paris is, of course, just about as European as it gets.

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