The Paris Key
Author: Juliet Blackwell
The Paris Key is aptly named on several levels. I like a good title. In this case it ties together multiple plot points of locksmithing, love, ghosts of the past, and finding a way through to the future. Main character Genevieve Martin runs away to Paris, following a formal separation from her husband, to take over the locksmith shop of her beloved late uncle Dave. She will find that Paris holds the key to unlocking personal mysteries as she works to “find herself” during this period of stress and change.
The book begins in Oakland, California. It’s especially ironic that Genevieve is running from this location when you consider that Berkeley, directly adjacent to Oakland, is known for its overly supportive community that seems to exist to help people discover themselves. Genevieve even makes a crack about her ex’s life coach. I was disappointed when this phrase, “…what I really needed to do was find myself” came up because it’s a cliché that has always rubbed me the wrong way, used too often to justify adults abandoning responsibilities and family, even children, on a journey of self-discovery for answers that they believe lay elsewhere. I think Blackwell is a better author than to throw out clichés. It’s also when I realized that as compelling as this “slice-of-life” story was written, I didn’t especially like it.
The Paris Key is well written, tight, has good pacing, character motives that make sense, and I don’t think I saw so much as a single copy edit error. It’s not a bad book, certainly not really a “C”. I’ve given better ratings to books that weren’t as well written and I acknowledge that. What it is, is a melancholy book and I felt sad while reading it. The depression of several characters felt depressing. It’s to author Juliet Blackwell’s credit that she made me feel those feelings, but it was over 350 pages of depression hanging over the main characters before getting to the potential hope of the ending. Unfortunately the climax is abrupt and short for the length of its lead-up. Relief was insufficient. I wanted more hope, more happy. The author doesn’t leave us in a soup of tears, but even this hopeful ending is still a sad one, including wasted years, wasted effort, hurt and pain. No one gets through life without hurt and pain, but you have to be in a pretty good mood to go there intentionally with your recreational reading.
This isn’t the kind of must-read book that gets rapidly passed around. It’s the one your book club chooses because someone going through a divorce liked it and made it her pick. Not surprisingly, there are a list of discussion questions at the back, ready for book clubs and girlfriends to discuss over coffee and scones. I did appreciate that before the discussion questions was an interview with the author about her writing process and personal experiences in Paris. I found Blackwell’s answers interesting and they would definitely add a lot to any discussion.
The fact that Blackwell is a California native comes through and as a San Francisco East Bay native myself that hasn’t been home in a decade, I was homesick when Genevieve wanted nothing more than to escape. Because of her emotional state, she depicted an Oakland that like her marriage, was rundown and confining. Looking through painful glasses, she saw more of the Bay Area’s flaws than its benefits. My childhood is full of happy memories of Oakland. It was my city, not Genevieve’s and I subconsciously faulted her for it.
One of the book’s most redeeming qualities is to play tourist in Paris with Genevieve. I genuinely enjoyed her friendship with a bread baker, her new neighbors, and the places she visited that were off the beaten path. My childhood also included beginning French lessons in third grade. The French phrases Blackwell included added a feeling of authenticity without being unapproachable. I want to visit Genevieve’s Paris, but I hope to do it under much happier circumstances.
As a girl, Genevieve Martin spent the happiest summer of her life in Paris, learning the delicate art of locksmithing at her uncle’s side. But since then, living back in the States, she has become more private, more subdued. She has been an observer of life rather than an active participant, holding herself back from those around her, including her soon-to-be-ex-husband.
Paris never really left Genevieve, and, as her marriage crumbles, she finds herself faced with an incredible opportunity: return to the magical city of her youth to take over her late uncle’s shop. But as she absorbs all that Parisian culture has to offer, she realizes the city also holds secrets about her family that could change her forever, and that locked doors can protect you or imprison you, depending on which side of them you stand.
Release Date: September 1, 2015
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Format(s): paperback (384 pages), e-book, audiobook
Book Source: Publisher/NetGalley
The Paris Key