The Siren of Paris by David LeRoy
Author: David LeRoy
Genre: Fiction (Historical / WWII / 1940s / Paris / Occupation / Concentration Camp)
Publisher/Publication Date: Self-published (2012)
Source: Promo 101 Book Promotions
Did I finish?: I didn't.
One-sentence summary: An American art student finds himself changed when the Nazi-occupation of Paris forces him to make tough choices, ones that will impact him forever.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: I'm not wild about it -- while it certainly captures the romantic/femme fatale-y aspect of the story, I don't think it quite conveys the novel's focus on WWII Paris.
I'm reminded of...: M.L. Malcolm
First line: "May the Lord be with you," the priest's voice rang out to all gathered at Marc's graveside in September 1967.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: If you're a WWII fic addict, this might be a good addition to your summertime reading.
Why did I get this book?: I can't resist WWII fic!
Review: I accepted this book without realizing it was self-published. I have mixed feelings about self-pubbed books: unless it's got great bones and wonderful story, I find I miss the polish that comes from a traditional publisher. (I will say, however, my top ten reads of 2011 and 2010 both included a self-published novel, so I'm not a total snob, I swear!)
In this case, LeRoy's historical novel set during the Nazi occupation of Paris certainly brought it in terms of plot and research. There was non-stop action. While reading, I was strongly reminded of M.L. Malcolm's novels -- which I hated but others love -- in terms of the relentless plot and the very tell-not-show style of writing LeRoy employs. (Unlike Malcolm, however, LeRoy uses dialogue to move things along, with mixed results, I think.) In terms of editing and formatting, the book was fine, and I didn't notice the kind of egregious mistakes that make self-pubbed books frustrating.
I ended up not finishing the book, stopping about 160 pages in when I found I wasn't really connected with out hero, Marc. First, the narrative style of the book didn't quite work for me -- within a single chapter, the story would jump back-and-forth between years, flashing between one story arc and another. I think it was meant to build some tension but I found it distracting -- with so much plot, I needed a linear development to help me absorb the action as well as find Marc's transformation from young American art student to war-wearied vet.
Secondly, I wasn't wild about LeRoy's dependence on networking to move Marc's story (even though I suppose that's actually how this kind of thing happens): by page twelve, Marc, an American ex-med student heading to art school in Paris, meets a woman on his transatlantic cruise who introduces him to Sylvia Beach. Through his father, he meets (and gets a job with) the US ambassador to France. The introductions project Marc into both the avant-garde art world and the international diplomatic table. (He meets both Mussolini and Hitler.)
Still, there are some unique historical events highlighted in this novel, like the destruction of the RMS Lancastria (Britain's worst ever maritime disaster), which I found fascinating. The novel reads fast, partially because of the breakneck development of the plot -- the occupation of Paris, the smuggling of Allied soldiers to safety -- and I don't think one needs to have a strong background with this era to appreciate the story.
Reader who like M.L. Malcolm's sort of splashy focus on history might like this book -- there's love, pathos, betrayal, angst, and romance -- and many other readers have nothing but raves for this book, so take my comments with a grain of salt.
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I'm thrilled to be able to offer a copy of The Siren of Paris to one lucky reader. To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 8/31.