13, rue Thérèse by Elena Mauli Shapiro

A novel spun around an inherited box of mementoes, gathered over the course of a life.

It sounded lovely but I thought it might be just a little predictable. I found though that it was anything but.

“She will give him the office with the tall, useless empty file cabinets in the corner. He will probably not think to open all the drawers and look at them his first day on the premises. But he will, eventually, discover a box tucked all the way into the darkness at the back of the bottom drawer, innocent looking yet unexpected. How could one see such a thing and not take a little peek inside?

She wonders what effect it will have on him.”

Josiane is the leaver of the box, and Trevor is the finder. He is an American in Paris. A visiting professor. A scholar of 19th century French literature.

Words and language intrigue Trevor. Double meanings. Ambiguities of translation. All of that is that is reflected in lovely, readable prose, and in very clever storytelling.

And the contents of the box intriguing too. Relics of one woman’s life, lived in Paris between the wars.

There are photographs, letters, so many small things that hold memories. They appear in between the words. And they don’t just illustrate the story, they are the very heart of the story.

Trevor is intrigued, and the more the looks. the more he thinks, the more his interest grows. He begins to construct the story of Louise Brunet.

The daughter of a jeweller, who was the apple of her widowed father’s eye. A girl whose first love was her cousin, a young man who lost his life in the great war. A young woman who married her father’s apprentice. A bored wife who fell passionately in love with another woman’s husband …

I knew that I wasn’t reading about the real Louise, that the Louise I met was a construct in Trevor’s head. But at the same time I liked her, I believed in her, and I wanted to know what her future held.

It felt strange, but I was impressed that I could believe in a woman created by a man created by a woman author!

And I was intrigued by the mixture of Louise’s real artefacts, Louise’s invented life, and Trevor’s rambling letters to his supervisor.

As the story progressed its focus changed. From a family story to a passionate romance. And I began to wonder if maybe it was reflecting Trevor’s emotions as his relationship with Josiane evolved.

The present day story was sparsely told, and so for a long time I wasn’t sure. But when past and present stories came together in a sudden and unexpected ending I decided that I had been right.

That ending was both clever and intriguing, but I must confess that I was disappointed to leave Louise’s story when there was more drama to come.

Maybe though I should look at her mementoes again, and fill in the gaps myself.

13, rue Thérèse is an intriguing little book.

A literary curio maybe.

8 responses

    • I think you would like it Mystica. It’s fairly new, but hopefully it won’t take too long for copies to turn up in your part of the world.

    • There was an obvious story to spin from a box of mementoes, but I was glad the author took another direction. There’s a lot going on under the surface, and I’d definitely recommend giving it a try.

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