Set in Paris over 24 hours in summer 1927, George’s engrossing third novel (after Setting Free the Kites) interweaves the lives of four characters struggling with loss, loneliness, and secrets. A decade after Turkish forces drove Souren Balakian from his home in Anatolia, he attempts to exorcize terrifying memories through his puppet shows. Before fleeing Paris to avoid reprisal for unpaid debts, Guillaume Blanc decides to meet the daughter he believes was born from his tryst with a trapeze artist 10 years earlier. Camille Clermont has saved one of the notebooks her late employer, Marcel Proust, asked her to burn; when her husband sells it without her permission, she fears that a shameful secret she confided to Proust will become public. Journalist Jean-Paul Maillard interviews luminaries such as Josephine Baker, but his heart is in the unpublished book he wrote about his infant daughter, Elodie, who disappeared in 1918 amid the German shelling that killed his wife. By evoking fictional characters and historical figures with equal vividness and wisely using repeated motifs (a Ravel piece, a prostitute, a club, a painting), George unites his narratives in a surprising yet wholly convincing denouement. Elegant and evocative, this will have special appeal for lovers of Paris and fans of Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife. (May)
George's third novel (after Setting Free the Kites) is set in 1927 Paris, the heyday of Gertrude Stein, Marcel Proust, and Maurice Ravel. These real historical figures mingle with fictional characters to convey Paris during those years of artistic fruition. The everyday characters include Armenian refugee and puppeteer Souren, whose shows have a dark undertone that has special meaning only to him. Artist Guillaume must repay the money he owes to a loan shark before he is killed. Journalist Jean-Paul dreams of moving to America, and interviews various American expats, such as Josephine Baker, to satisfy his soul. There is also the tale of Marcel Proust's maid, a country girl named Camille who ends up being Proust's confidante. An artist, a writer, a puppeteer, and an author's intimate—the stories of these characters move back and forth in a beautiful dance. And how they come together in the final movement is très belle! VERDICT George has captured the ethos of 1920s Paris with a feel similar to Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See. This title is not to be missed.—Beth Gibbs, Davidson, NC
Set in 1927, George’s atmospheric third novel follows the lives of four ordinary Parisians, each seeking something they lost, over the course of a summer day.
The book opens a few hours after midnight as Souren Balakian, an Armenian refugee haunted by traumatic memories of his flight from Ottoman Anatolia a decade before, prepares his puppets for his daily shows at the Jardin du Luxembourg. Impoverished painter Guillaume Blanc awakes, hungover and desperate to raise money to pay off a loan shark’s debt that is due that day. Insomniac Jean-Paul Maillard, a journalist nursing physical and emotional wounds from the Great War, comforts himself listening to the music of George Gershwin. Camille Clermont arrives at a cemetery with her young daughter, Marie, to lay flowers on the grave of her former employer, writer Marcel Proust. As the day progresses, alternating chapters interweave these characters’ pasts with their presents to gradually reveal tragedies and heart-wrenching secrets. The era’s celebrities (Josephine Baker, Gertrude Stein, Maurice Ravel, Sylvia Beach, Ernest and Pauline Hemingway) make guest appearances in a name-dropping Midnight in Paris fashion. Despite some striking moments (a badly wounded Jean-Paul is moved by an impromptu piano concert in an abandoned church by an ambulance driver who turns out to be Ravel), other encounters feel forced. Likewise, in George’s aim to get his four protagonists to the climax in a Montmartre jazz club, the loose connections he creates among them seem at times like heavy-handed contrivances. And despite the vividness of the stories being told, their power is undermined by the flatness of the character development. Still, the ambiguous ending will provide discussion fodder for reading groups.
Despite its flaws, George’s Proustian homage to a lost time will be a Francophile’s madeleine.
Praise for The Paris Hours
“A notebook plucked from the fire, a missing child, a troublesome debt, a traumatic memory: from these elements, Alex George masterfully concocts a story of desperate, grieving people seeking solace, redemption, and answers to the questions that plague them. Like All the Light We Cannot See, The Paris Hours explores the brutality of war and its lingering effects with cinematic intensity. The ending will leave you breathless.”
Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train and A Piece of the World
“The Paris Hours is the kind of novel I always dream about finding: a completely engrossing story that had me canceling plans so I could race to the end. Alex George brilliantly conjures a world between the wars filled with unforgettable characters, including Maurice Ravel, Ernest Hemingway, Marcel Proust, and Josephine Baker. This is a book with Paris at its heart for any reader who loved Paula McClain’s The Paris Wife or Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. I read The Paris Hours without pausing, desperate to see if these marvelous characters could escape the ache of their past. And I gasped when I got to the end.”
Will Schwalbe, New York Times bestselling author of The End of Your Life Book Club and Books for Living
“In The Paris Hours, Alex George writes movingly of human connection, lost and found. His vivid portrayal of lives intersecting in early 20th century Paris will delight you with its lyricism and touch you with its humanity. There are delicious cameos from famous expatriates such as Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway, but the main protagonists, all seeking something or someone lost, seemingly forever, are so beautifully drawn they will haunt you long after you reach the end.”
Melanie Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue and Mistress of the Ritz
“The Paris Hours is a feast of the human soul. In this stunning novel, Alex George goes behind the glitter of Paris in 1927 and takes you to the rooftops, the skinny alleyways, the flower-strewn parks, and darkened bar rooms to mine the wisdom of humanity. A remarkable story. Beautifully rendered; gorgeously told.”
Jessica Keener, author of Strangers In Budapest
“Although Josephine Baker, Marcel Proust, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein drift along the edges of this exquisitely written, lovely jewel of a book, the characters who win our true affection are those created with appealing sympathy by Mr. George. They move through the streets of an evocatively rendered Paris and into our hearts as their lives entwine and the story builds to a conclusion as bittersweet as life itself.”
George Hodgman, New York Times bestselling author of Bettyville
“Unfolding over the course of one day in 1927, in a city whose citizens remain traumatized by the devastation of World War I, The Paris Hours is a thrilling, irresistible marvel. In lyrical prose, author Alex George weaves together memory, loss, and yearning, portraying his characters with such vivid immediacy that I could imagine myself walking beside them along the winding streets of Paris, sharing their stories. Riveting, heartbreaking, and compassionate, The Paris Hours continues to haunt me.”
Lauren Belfer, New York Times bestselling author of City of Light and And After the Fire, recipient of the National Jewish Book Award
“Alex George does for the croissant what his muse Marcel Proust did for the madeleine. A journey of memory, The Paris Hours is a sensory feast that had me gobbling pages and dreaming myself into the sparkling company of Gertrude Stein, Josephine Baker, and Sylvia Beach during the heyday of Paris prestige. You know a novel is great when you finish reading and wish the fiction could be true history.”
Sarah McCoy, New York Times and international bestselling author of Marilla of Green Gables