So. I just wanted to preface by saying that this was another book discussion novel from my library. Our demographic absolutely LOVED this book. They really enjoy Holocaust reads. I found myself in the minority when I said that I didn’t really like it. One of the great things about writing this blog, which I do mainly for my own enjoyment, is that after a life of reading I am only now really figuring out what exactly it is about a book that makes me like it.
I enjoy books that have complex characters. Characters with depth, with some sort of inner turmoil that needs to be resolved. I need to feel invested. I’m pretty wide open when it comes to genres, settings, and writing styles. But I need to believe in the characters. I need time to develop a relationship with them. So I can laugh with them, or cry with them. For me, the characters are the life breath of the story. If they aren’t fleshed out, the book begins to feel shallow. The Paris Architect helped me to realize this.
Lucien is a French architect who is struggling during the German Occupation of France during WWII. He is a simpering juvenile man who is only happy when his ego is being stroked, even if he has to do it himself. Lucien receives some work from a very rich man called Manet. But, Manet wants him to use his skills to hide affluent Jewish persons in many of his city apartments. We watch as Lucien battles his inner demons, and questions his ethics and morality.
Rather than the more commonly seen village, ghetto, or camp, the backdrop is the opulent and decadent side of Paris. Fashion models, fashion designers, architects, Gestapo. It’s all a little hoity-toity. All the women are beautiful, all the men are powerful.
Belfoure kills off characters left and right. Usually I’m ok with this…(thank you George R.R. Martin…) but Belfoure introduced a character only to kill them off again in the same chapter simply for the sake of killing them. And, I will point out that these are pretty short chapters. I am sure he did this to demonstrate the monstrosities committed by the Nazis in WWII, but it just all felt a little hollow. I suppose we gain some insight into the soulless Gestapo, but all in all the characters and events are pretty one-dimensional across the board.
When reading about The Holocaust, it, you know,…it should make you feel all the feels. But I found myself becoming very apathetic while reading The Paris Architect. While there is torture, there is no intensity. While there is intrigue, I found too much predictability. I think Belfoure didn’t really rise to the occasion, which is too bad considering his platform. I don’t need a happy ending. I don’t need lovable characters. I don’t need rainbows and sunshine. But I do need to FEEL something. Anything. And, I may be assuming things here, but isn’t that what Holocaust novels are supposed to make you do? Feel something? Anguish, rage, joy, horror? The Paris Architect really missed the mark for me. It fell flat. Really flat.
If you really enjoy WWII novels, I’m sure you will like the Paris Architect. It may not make your top 10 list, but it may be worth a read. It’s Belfoure’s debut novel, and, if you put stock into such things, it made the New York Times best sellers list in July 2015. So, someone out there liked it. Maybe its you?