This is the summer that Lewis Little, precocious thirteen-year-old, is spending in Paris with his beautiful mother, Alice, who is translating the latest medieval romance by Valentina Gavrilovich, the bestselling and exotic Russian émigré. This is the summer that the bewitching Valentina beckons from her sofa, and Lewis discovers an exquisite new world filled with passion and intrigue, set against the alluring backdrop of Paris. But when Valentina disappears and Lewis takes it upon himself to find her, wondrous secrets suddenly turn sinister. This is the summer that Lewis, caught in a bizarre and dangerous romance, is about to face head-on the perilous force that transforms children into adults.
I certainly didn't enjoy this as much as Tremain's historical novels like Music and Silence or Restoration, and I'm not much of a one for mysteries/crime novels. But overall, it kept my interest and was a pretty good read.
Despite at first seeming like a happy-go-lucky coming of age story about a boy's summer trip to France with his unusually beautiful mother, this book quickly turns into a touching and engaging noir mystery. The juxtaposition of adolescent idealism with noir elements sheds a creepy light on the main character's youthful exuberance. This book isn't heavy but it stayed with me, perhaps because the subject matter involved such a pure and unconditional love between two of the main characters. I also enjoyed reading about Russian immigrants in Paris, and related to the bookworm adolescent who looks for answers in classic literature.
I finished reading it at five in the morning and was so utterly bereft by the ending that I had to go wake my husband up to tell him about it. (Luckily, he's a good sport...)
My reactions to this novel are mixed. It never quite rang true for me but I suspect I will remember it for a while. Lewis is an appealing narrator and protagonist: he's smart, moody, and believably adolescent. His adventure is less convincing. Part of my ambivalence is that 13-year-old male sexuality is of absolutely no interest to me, but it clearly fascinates Tremain as she explores Lewis' passion for Valentina, a passion both sexual and childish (as in: maternal attachment). Given that I was bored for a notable part of the reading experience, I was surprised that, as the story came to its climax and resolution, I cared what was going to happen. The ending was more satisfying than the process of getting there.
Tremain's descriptions of Paris are themselves alluring and Valentina's dog, Sergei, is enough to make me go in search of a new canine family member. I'll continue to read Rose Tremain's works but I do hope for better next time.
Having very recently read and been impressed with Tremain's "The Road Home" I decided to tackle another of her novels. However, for me this one is far less successful.
This book centres around a 13-year-old English boy, Lewis Little, who along with his mother Alice, a translator, is invited to spend the summer holidays in Paris with popular medieval novelist Valentina Gavrilovich, whilst his father stays in England. Alice is there to work on Valentina's latest novel but Lewis is there purely to improve his French language skills.
Alice's work leaves Lewis with a lot of free time on his hands but no real friends to spend it with and he soon becomes captivated by his much older, voluptuous hostess. When Alice appears to start an affair (it is never proven conclusively) Lewis begins to focus all his attention on to Valentina lusting after her imagining them as lovers.
One day Valentina suddenly disappears and Lewis is convinced that she has been kidnapped. Turning super-sleuth Lewis attempts to rescue his first love rather than leaving it in the hands of the authorities which is what his mother prefers. The police initially believe that Valentina has been coerced into returning to her homeland of Russia by an old boyfriend who had recently been in the city. Lewis however, does no believe this theory and aided by Valentina's next door neighbour, Moinel, follows a different tack. When Lewis apparently gets too close to the truth he too is kidnapped and shares captivity with Valentina in an adjoining room all the time becoming ever attached to her as he tries to devise an escape talking non-stop with her through a hole in the wall until it all reaches a fateful climax.
Therefore this novel is part mystery, part romance and part adolescent fantasy. Now whilst on the whole I enjoyed the author's writing style and admitting that it had some amusing and touching moments for me overall it did not really gel. Without wanting to appear overly sexist I feel that this book would have been better if it had been written by a man who had actually lived through and had some of these teenage male fantasies because somehow I just did not feel that Tremain quite got Lewis's character quite right. In contrast I quite enjoyed her portrayal of Valentina and the frosty Alice. Overall an OK read but missed the target IMHO.
The ending troubles me, as if Tremain had to invent some plot device to drive on the story. As a reader you feel involved in the drama of it all but afterwards it seems so unrelated to the rest of the book. The thing that remains is the emotional complexity of being 13.