Reading in the Time of Coronavirus

Paris Echo – Sebastian Faulks

Next month I’m having my eyes done – or, at least, that’s the plan. Who knows, in these uncertain times, what the world will look like next week let along half way through May. For me, though, it may look so much brighter. I’m told that after the two laser treatments – our country’s most common medical procedure – I’ll only require reading glasses. Having worn specs since my early teens, that’ll be a game changer. Also the layers of cling wrap, as my lovely optometrist described what my fading vision was like, would melt away, revealing the clarity I haven’t known for years. Perhaps the tired eyes I carry daily will also disappear. I’ll no longer doze off just after opening my book. I’ll no longer feel the need for an afternoon nanny nap. I’d just love to be able to read more.

I started reading Sebastian Faulk’s ‘Paris Echo’, having so enjoyed earlier works including ‘Birdsong’, ‘Charlotte Gray’ and ‘On Green Dolphin Street’, as the bastard virus descended on our world. When I started it cruise liners were still sailing up the Derwent, our year’s travel plans were still intact and visits to and by grandchildren the thing that made our hearts soar.

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It took so long to complete it’s three hundred odd pages. It wasn’t such a bad book; it wasn’t that heavy going. I think, as COVID19 took hold and our personal orb shrank to the home and little else, the radio, newspapers and constantly checking news feeds took prominence. Now newspapers have started to leave the equation as that requires a daily journey to collect. Most out-and-abouting by car is frowned on. Still, the tome was eventually finished, but in all honesty I cannot say it was relished. I suspect that is mostly due to the times rather than its quality.

Once I was reading Faulks’ novels as they came out, but my enthusiasm for them waned as time went on. ‘Paris Echo’ had received positive reviews so I gave SF another burl, just as CV hit town.

Youthful Algerian Tariq and older American Hannah arrive in Paris around the same time. For an adventurous young man, dragging himself up by his bootstraps, his eyes are still opened by the Paris the tourist rarely sees. For Hannah, an academic, she is returning to research her latest project, still haunted by her now lost lover from a previous excursion to the city of love. By chance they become the unlikeliest of house-mates as the lad gains employment frying chicken and she reconnects with an old friend. He has little adventures riding the metro and connecting with mysterious women, as well as a half-crazed puppeteer. She engages with her topic, the women of Paris during the war years. She looks at case studies of those who collaborated with both the Resistance and their Nazi overlords. Faulks also treats the reader to some of these women’s stories as well. Meanwhile, her North African flat mate discovers something of the more recent troubled relationship between his homeland and France.

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Perhaps there was too much happening in the book; but methinks more than likely too much happening outside of it, with our planet completely off its axis. I just couldn’t settle to it – returning in fits and starts with no real enthusiasm.

We’re informed we have months ahead of this semi-isolation as the disease is battled. But we’re also told the world will return, hopefully renewed – just like my own eyes. This will be looked back on as an aberration – a telling one, mind.

The author’s website – https://www.sebastianfaulks.com/

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