Two of my favorite things in the world are craft beer and books. On the last Thursday of every month I pair a story I love with a pint to sip while reading it, under the theory that there is a perfect beer to compliment every book.
I had been meaning to read Michelle Gable’s A PARIS APARTMENT for a long time! It was on my “to be read” list last year when I was in Paris. My plan was to pick up a copy at Shakespeare & Company and to read while I was in Paris (because reading a book set in Paris, in Paris… I mean really, would anything have been better). Alas, they did not have a copy on hand. Plan foiled, I turned to other books on my near infinite list. Then last month, almost exactly a year later and on vacation again, I was wandering through Powell’s Books in Portland. Out of the bazillions of books, what should catch my eye but A PARIS APARTMENT. It was clearly meant to be.
Here’s what I loved about the book:
- The history. I’m not going to lie, I am completely and utterly in awe of anyone who writes historical fiction of any sort. The research. The hours, and hours of research. A PARIS APARTMENT tells two stories. The present day story of April Vogt who is a continental furniture specialist for Sotheby’s and the story of Marthe de Florian, whose journals she finds in the apartment she has been called in to assess. Marthe’s journal entries span 20 years from 1898 to 1919. Historical events (The Exposition Universelle in 1900, the beginning of World War I) and prominent authors,artists, and scholars provide the backdrop for her story. Gable deftly weaves fact and fiction in a way that makes it hard to distinguish which is which– making the reader feel completely and totally immersed in both the actual historical world and the world she creates for her characters. Did I mention the research that must have gone into this?
- The fight scenes. No, no, not fight scenes in the sense of sword fights or fist fights. However, in the present day storyline, April’s relationship with her husband is on the rocks in a big way and they have several verbal sparring matches that are among the best I’ve read. There’s this spectacular tension in the words, and the pacing is perfect. As a reader, you find yourself squinting your eyes and turning pages cautiously knowing something is going to implode at any moment.
- The gray areas. I feel like this is something I’ve said about other books before and if I have, it’s because this is truly one of my favorite things in any story. Gable tackles really tough issues about family and loss and life. About honesty and infidelity. About running away. And about staying. There aren’t pretty, easy answers to these topics and she reflects this beautifully in the book, while also leaving the reader with hope. Which is, of course, another of my favorite things in fiction (and in life).
As I mentioned, I picked this book up on vacation in Portland, so I feel I would be remiss not to pair it with an Oregon beer. I’m going with 10 Barrel Brewing Company’s Cucumber Crush. It’s a Berliner Weisse brewed with cucumbers. A Berliner Weisse is a sour style, but it’s not a mouth-puckering sort of sour, more like a nice refreshing lemonade. The cucumber is an unexpected ingredient that adds depth to the beer, in just the same way the ages-old story of a Paris courtesan complements and deepens the modern-day story of a women searching for herself amidst the dusty contents of an abandoned apartment. You need the sour to appreciate the sweetness and light.
It took me so long to finally read Michelle Gable’s debut that she’s already published her second book. In addition to THE PARIS APARTMENT, be sure to check out I’LL SEE YOU IN PARIS. She may even be coming to your city to talk about it and sign copies!