Friday, September 25, 2015

Book review: The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton

I am tired of WWII books. And this fact makes my review of this book unfair. I was not in the right state of mind for it. This book was better than I enjoyed it.

I was drawn to this book by, of all things, a connection to Nashville (my hometown). The narrator, Jane, is a reporter for The Nashville Banner (the afternoon paper which my family used to get until it folded in the 1990s.) and her mother works for the owners of the paper, who are also the owners of the Belle Meade Mansion, the biggest and fanciest of the former plantation houses in town. Jane was sweet on their son, even though he was engaged to an Ingram girl (yes, those Ingrams, book people. Ingram Content Group, the biggest book wholesaler in the country.) They would go parking by the Harpeth River. All of these things were very real to me (except we don't have no-see-ums in Nashville, those bugs fortunately are much further south.) But the Nashville connection is fleeting. From the very beginning, Jane is in France, writing stories about the military hospital where she is stationed, sleeping under her bed instead of in it to protect from bombings, and wishing her assignment to cover the war in Europe were more glamorous. Then Liv arrives. A photographer married to a newspaper publisher, Liv is connected and wealthy, and determined to be the first to photograph the liberation of Paris. Jane tags along. They hook up with Fletcher, a photographer for the military intelligence, and a friend of Liv's husband. And they follow the Allies across France.

Jane's memories of Nashville didn't seem big or important enough to really be influencing her now, in France, during the war. It seemed to me like there should have been more of them and they should have been bigger, or why bother with them at all? We never got a feel for Tommy, the boy back home who was cheating on his girlfriend with Jane. In fact, we don't get much of a feel for Jane either. She seems to be there as Liv's narrator. Liv is the exciting one, the interesting one. She's the one who pushes boundaries, who is gossiped about, the one with resources. Jane is just... along for the ride (and the story.) This fact was driven home for me in a couple of scenes in the last quarter of the book between Fletcher and Liv, when Jane isn't even there. But it's a first-parson narrated story from Jane's point of view. How can Jane not be there? It's telling when your narrator is such a thin and inconsequential character that no one notices this egregious violation of perspective.

Letting that discrepancy go, I liked the story. I liked the tension of them hiding from the military police (they have gone AWOL after all, to go to the front), hiding from the fighting, hiding from Germans, yet always racing just up to the point of danger. It shows how important the newspapers were to the fight--support back home was won and lost thanks to the journalists taking photos and writing stories for the newspapers back in the U.S. Those stories and pictures didn't always tell the truth--the faces of the dead were always blurred out in pictures, especially if they were allied forces--but they were important nonetheless, bringing the war home.

Everyone is raving about this novel and if I read it at another time, I likely would have been too. I am trying very hard not to let my sick-and-tiredness over WWII affect my reading of this book but it can't help influencing it. I loved seeing the story of women disobeying orders, risking arrest, risking their lives to be on the ground, in the thick of things. In the fight for women's rights, these women were important. And gutsy and brave. You probably will enjoy this book. And I'd have enjoyed it more if I read it next year. Alas.

I checked this book out of the library.

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