Well, this was a fun little read. A bit like Griffin and Sabine, but less magic (both in the story line, as well as the "artifacts," which, in G&S can actually be handled but in this book, they're just photos), a little like The Venetian's Wife in that you are delving into the past and it feels like a puzzle.
An academic in Paris finds a mysterious box of artifacts in a drawer in his office, hidden there by his assistant for him to find. In it are remnants of a woman's life who had lived in the earlier part of the 20th century at 13, rue Thérèse. He ends up getting sucked into her story and, in some parts, actually getting sucked back in time and interacting with her.
It's an interestingly told story about her life in the past and his life in the present. There isn't a lot of connection between their two lives, but the stories still feel intertwined... perhaps because of the artifacts: Things that she has held in her hand, he holds now. Then he hooks up with the assistant who hid the box, which might have been her intent all along. That story is a little extraneous, but it's fine, because the whole thing is all a little odd. So more oddness works here.
About 1/4 of the way through, I thought, "I have no idea what is going on in this book and I might have to re-read it..." but then things started to gel and come together. It got all weird and mysterious but then had a pretty satisfying conclusion. Sometimes I find these magical time-transcending artifact-laden stories either end on a WTF note (or on a WTF image — see meat lap) or a sort of cliffhanger/mystery trail-off (indicating, to me, that the author actually said "WTF?" to themselves when they got there and just ended it) but this book did wrap up quite nicely, while still leaving a bit of mystery.
A cool idea that didn't quite work out:
Sooo... this book delved into the "multimedia" and it didn't really work for me. The concept: Use your phone's QR reader to view the artifacts in more detail. Unfortunately, a lot of the artifacts also have audio content in embedded Flash which means, if you have a Very Popular Smartphone (hint: begins with an "i"), you cannot hear the audio. Fail. Sooooo... I took the time to go to a computer to find out what I was missing. Turns out that it was audioclips of someone reading the text. Which is... a little odd. I guess the parts in French would be cool — listening to someone actually speak French is a bit of an immersion, right? But... it's not worth stopping reading, going to my computer, and going to the site. It's kind of disruptive.
And the site itself is lovely, but flawed... all of the stuff is out of order, so it's not like it's easy to say, "Oh, yeah — I've read pages 25-50 today, lemme catch up on checking out those artifacts." You can see the site for yourself right here. I honestly cannot imagine why they put that crap all out of order except... they wanted you to have that "treasure hunt" feeling? Or they didn't want someone who has not bought the book to just skim through the stuff and get the book "for free?" So strange. If they're all that hyped about that, they could have made the site password protected and then given people a password in the book. At least you'd have to actually look in the book to get the password. I don't know. I'm just spitballing here. For those of us who *do* own the book and want to check this stuff out, it's just kind of a hassle.
Sometimes the artifact is accompanied by audio and sometimes there is a clip from the text... For instance, this one just has the copy straight from the book. I actually didn't look at them all because, as I mentioned, it was kind of tough to sift through the stuff. I didn't really find any "easter eggs" or anything — just larger pictures of the artifacts, plus clips of the text, either written or voiced. This one had a video attached to it at some point, but now it's no longer available. It seems like a neat idea, poorly executed.
TMAI (Too Much Author Info):
Sometimes, learning more about an author's story makes a book more interesting. Sometimes, a little less. Unfortunately, the latter is the case with this one (but you never know until after you've gotten the author details, right?)
As it turns out, the box of artifacts is real and the author actually lived at 13, rue Thérèse as a child. According to the site, when the woman upstairs died, she left this box and no one ever claimed it. The author has been carrying it around with her ever since, planning to write this book all along (she moved to the US in the 1980s at the age of 13).
So even though the main character, Louise Brunet, did exist and these were her possessions, the entire story about her was manufactured by the author. She knew nothing about this woman and made up everything from these artifacts, which included photos of her life, a glove, sewing notions, a few coins, etc. I think it would have been more interesting if she had managed to research this woman and actually write a real history about her *or* just used the artifacts to tell a work of complete fiction.
As it stands, it sort of rubs me the wrong way — I hope someone doesn't find a box of my crap when I'm dead and make up an entire book of stories about me, using my real name, address, and photos... especially one that involves me cheating on my husband with a neighbor!
Aw, man. I really did like this book, but 2/3 of this write up is about stuff I didn't like! I guess it really is true that it's easier to bitch and moan than it is to say positive things. Oh, well. I'm leaving it — it's our blog and I can bitch and moan if I want to. ;)
PS — Just remembered that you asked me how my French was on that last post. Um... rusty? There was quite a bit of French in this book (with translations) and I was able to read some of it, but not much. I'm slightly better conversationally, but still... rusty.