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Paris Trance: A Romance Paperback – March 30, 2010
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Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Learn more
“Entrancing . . . I can't think of a recent novel that better describes the scarily charged beginning of a love affair.” ―The New York Times Book Review
“A beautifully composed rave-generation rhapsody . . . In prose dripping with eroticism and aching with melancholy, Dyer masterfully dissects the vicissitudes of twenty-something love.” ―The Sunday Times (London)
“Witty and sexy and experimental.” ―Lucinda Ballantyne, The Boston Globe
“Absorbing and darkly romantic . . . However it's labeled--as a novel thick with essay point, and old-fashioned story in postmodern dress, or a fiction that contains its own dissertation--Paris Trance is a haunting work.” ―Tom Nolan, San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
“Tender is the Night for the Ecstasy Age.” ―Tim Pears, author of In the Place of Fallen Leaves
“A beautiful, remarkable book about sad, unremarkable lives.” ―Ian Sansom, The Guardian (UK)
About the Author
Geoff Dyer is the author of Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, among other novels, and several nonfiction books. He won a National Book Critics Circle Award in 2012 for Otherwise Known as the Human Condition. He lives in Los Angeles.
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This dull parade of insignificant scenes tries to show the ordinariness of love, the way that it just happens as a part of everyday occurrences - but instead it comes across like somebody describing their weekend to you. If a writer tries to hide the extraordinary within the ordinary, hoping for some sort of subtle lifelike experience, he risks presenting the reader with only the ordinary. And if a story is going to march along in that fashion, than it should have interesting characters. Alas this one does not. The two girlfriends in the story, Sahra and Nicole, are so similar, and similarly uninteresting, that I frequently got them mixed up before realizing that it did not matter anyway. The story is told by one of the two English guys, Alex, although you don't realize that he is the narrator until the end. There is no real reason for this, other than just to be clever.
The main focus of the story is Luke, and he is presented as some sort of tragically romantic figure, a man so committed to living and loving in the moment that life eventually passes him by, and he ends up barely living at all. He comes to Paris to write a novel, but writes nothing. Instead he works in a warehouse and develops a social life and a love life with Nicole. This "romantic readiness" (to borrow a phrase that described Gatsby) is ultimately his weakness. The two couples party together, go to clubs, eat, take ecstasy, spend weekends in the country. There is a fistfight with a French right-winger. There is a fight between the two lovers. And none of it is very interesting.
This has moments of fine writing, of interesting thoughts and lively descriptions. It has the taco chip quality that many other writers today (such as Murakami) have; the scenes flow by smoothly and one wants to keep reading. But as much as I wanted to, I could not really get into it, and I only read to the end because I wanted to know how Dyer would close up the story.
Some of the dialogue is uncomfortably Hip; there's some rather too-easy pop-culture riffing, inspired according to Dyer by his admiration for Don DeLillo's way with dialogue. But the book has the same sort of deeper ambiguities as "Gatsby"; Alex writes the book as part of a struggle with himself between his creeping discomfort with his own ordinariness and Luke's tragic appetite for living such grand abstractions as Destiny and Bliss. The sheen of the prose, when describing events like the characters walking through a French field high on acid, has the poignant lustre of remembered happiness. (Dyer's first novel was called The Colour of Memory and is, I think, quite a bit better than this one.)
I don't know if Dyer is a natural novelist and he isn't too sure himself. But Paris Trance is a beautiful book, if it isn't this writer at his best. And it has some wonderful bits: a spoof re-enactment of "Brief Encounter", brilliant accounts of what it's like to go to a pub in a foreign city and a couple of great sex scenes. His non-fiction is maybe more intellectually electric but his fiction is a quieter pleasure.
Five stars, not because I think the book is a flat-out masterpiece but because he's a fantastic writer and I wanted to bring the average up.