First off, I feel it vitally important that I create the scene of my consumption of this particular treat. Why? Well, for the most part I was either participating in riding the Sydney System – the eighties term for the capital of New South Wales’s train provision, or sitting (almost comfortably), in coach class on Malaysia Airlines. Partaking in a little companionless travel and finding myself escaping easily into and absorbing the tale. Diverted only and occasionally by the ‘water, orange or guava’ drink offer indicated by the exquisitely attired flight attendant, or the hum of the train tracks as we picked up pace and sped through the Inner West.
Narrated by a 13 year old chap (Lewis), who’s spending the summer of 1994 with his mother, as guests of Valentina. The latter being a woman whom simply oozes off the page.
Prepare yourself for sensory hyperactivity. For not only can you see, smell, hear and taste Paris, you can touch her and feel the heat rising from the pavements. Your only respite from the midday temperatures, find a spot under some trees, armed with a small glass of something very very cold. Lewis’s selection often being an Orangina or a Shandy, mine more likely to be a glass of Fanta Lemon or Sauvignon Blanc.
Lewis’s undeniable courage and perhaps at times, stupidity leaves you no options, except to turn the page. His thoughts on his father’s summer project, though disparaging, astute and his commitment to Valentina is so immersed in teenage adoration that I found myself almost aching to feel so passionately and so single-mindedly once more.
I very much doubt it was the author’s intention to get me pining for a little step back in time time, though Lewis’s behaviour is so uncompromised and disinterested in the sensible, it’s incredibly appealing.
Additionally, this story explores a plethora of experience, both adult and adolescent and I found myself assigning each character, according to their attitude to Lewis, to either being a potential friend or non-friend candidate for me. Dad you’re in, Sergei you’re in and Valentina’s mum you are definitely in. Alice, sorry you’re a little too self-absorbed, so you’re not in.
Lewis – one thing I should really let you know – and I bring this up because of a couple of reviews I read post completion of the book. Though you are potentially a little cleverer than most of your peers (and this is where a couple of negatives appear to stem from, daring to suggest that this lends itself to you being less than believable), I won’t hear a word of it. I think your intellect is a credit to you and I was relieved to discover that fellows your age, are interested in spending their time translating select French texts and learning about Existentialism.
And just one more thing. Rose Tremain you never cease to amaze. Your ability to constantly produce works that are so varied and engaging always makes you a super author to pick-up and REALLY enjoy. Thank you.