From Publishers Weekly
Shapiro's debut, an imaginative, sensual rendering of a Parisian woman's life, is told through the voice of Trevor Stratton, a young American scholar and translator working at a university in Paris. Stratton finds a box filled with objects dating back to WWI that once belonged to Louise Brunet, and his fascination with the box's contents—postcards, handkerchiefs, love letters, and other vintage keepsakes—leads him to imagine what Brunet's life in Paris might have been. What Stratton isn't aware of at first is that the box was left for him by Josianne, a secretary at the university, who is using the box and its contents to measure Stratton's romantic worthiness. As Stratton unfolds Brunet's story against the background of WWI battlefields and several inventions—a lover, Camille Victor, who dies in battle; a resulting unhappy marriage to husband Henri; and a passionate affair with a married neighbor, Xavier Langlais—he gradually comes to realize that Josianne is the source of his archival inspiration. The book is illustrated with photos of the actual objects owned by Shapiro, cleverly used as the novel's framing device. (Feb.)
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This ambitious first novel from Paris-born Shapiro centers on a box of WWI-era artifacts, depicted in color throughout the book, found by American academic in Paris Trevor Stratton (it was purposefully left for him by his mysterious new secretary). From photographs and miscellaneous objects, Stratton pieces together “a record” of the life of their owner, Madame Louise Brunet—a real person, incidentally, who lived in the Paris apartment above Shapiro’s, and whose mysterious, unclaimed belongings Shapiro really owns. At turns truly exciting and overflowing with imagination, the novel is full of intriguing characters: Louise’s boring husband, Henri; her talented young piano student, Garance; and her new neighbor, Xavier, to whom she is magnetically drawn. This gimmicky tale unravels somewhat when Stratton, apparently in a fever-dream, begins to confuse his life with Louise’s and implicates himself in the history in which he’s become so involved. Puzzle-lovers will be curious to check out the book’s online counterpart, in which they can view 3-D versions of the book’s images. --Annie Bostrom