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Bookworm Festival Pulse: Myths and Dreams in Paris by the Book

“Once a week I chase men who are not my husband,” is the first line Liam Callanan reads from his new novel, Paris by the Book, while standing behind a substantial glass of redwine and a microphone. “Once a week I chase men who are not my husband . . . I walk my daughters to school, stare past the parents that stare past me, and search for that day’s man.”

It is a striking beginning, in the words of Liam’s 42-year-old female narrator, Leah, who “lost” her husband. He was a writer with a tendency to wander off, and so despite the police’s suspicions that he drowned in a nearby lake, Leah’s two daughters are convinced he has simply wondered off. These suspicions are buoyed when they find an unfinished manuscript of their father’s that takes place in Paris. Desperate with the idea that he must be in alive, writing in some café in the French capitol, they convince their mother to take them on a family trip so that they can follow in the footsteps of the characters; in the end, they are sure they will find their father.

Liam tells us that the book is, in a way, about the myths and dreams that sustain us. We can see this reflected in the fact that Paris itself holds a mystical quality. When he is asked why this is, he says it may be because the city has not changed in generations, and because even when we arrive for the first time we feel as if we have been there before in our lives. But regardless of the reason, there is no arguing about the fact that the city has captivated millions of imaginations.

“Paris is a beautiful myth,” he says, “a dream on the horizon.” We dream about going there, and when we arrive we realize there are parts of the dream that are true, and parts that are not true. The architecture and the Seine do not disappoint, but the sidewalk smells a little bit less pleasant than the smell of freshly baked croissants we had imagined, and people have atendency “to step in front of you and then slow down, “which is of course annoying. Somewhere between myth and reality is the truth not just of Paris, but of life in general.

Liam went back and forth to Paris while writing, but when writing in the USA he “traveled” to Paris by listening to audio files of the city that had been uploaded to youtube. He could hear Russian, and English, and French and the sounds of Vespas whizzing by the sidwalk.

The first question Liam is asked is about being a man writing an entire novel with a female narrator. He answers that at first, the book was third person, then “I reached a point where I was stopped. I was blocked. And what I tell my students to do if they’re blocked is to ‘hand the microphone’ to each character and see who can move the story forward.” He says he gave the microphone it to each character, and they had nothing to say. Then he handed it to Leah, and she couldn’t stop talking. “So I gave her the book.” He adds that “I am not an expert in women, but I am expert in Leah. I know her very well.There’s a lot of me in her.”

 

Written by: Amanda Fiore

Writer & Writing Educator in Beijing, China

BLFVolunteer, 2019

WeChat:AmandaJaneFiore

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