Author: Charles Belfoure
Rating: 2 stars
I read this book through the library.
This was the second book I’ve read for the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge. Unfortunately, I do not feel nearly so enthusiastic about it as I did the first. (The following review includes spoilers for things that made me angry, so proceed with caution if that bothers you).
The Paris Architect is a debut novel; Charles Belfoure is, in fact, an architect. That, and the WWII setting, hooked my interest. I am hit-or-miss with WWII novels, but there are all kinds of opportunities for dramatic conflict that interest me.
Lucien Bernard, the titular architect, is a Parisian living under the German Occupation in 1942. Somewhat against his will, he gets pulled in to design secret hiding places for Jews. At first he does it for the money, and because if he does the work he will be commissioned to design prominent factories. Then he starts getting a thrill out of tricking the Gestapo. But gradually he becomes more and more invested in his project, and develops a sense of purpose.
It’s a good setup, but the execution is sorely lacking. The writing is clumsy and awkward. It’s full of exposition, much of it unnecessary, and clunky dialogue. And the climax hinges on one character acting improbably and another doing something almost criminally stupid. (Maybe–just maybe–if you are being relentlessly pursued by the Gestapo, and they have a portrait of you wearing a humongous emerald ring, you might want to take off that ring and also not stand in front of any windows across from Gestapo headquarters. Just a thought.)
I found the portrayal of women in the novel particularly awful, to the point of being offensive.The first woman you see in the novel is Adele, Lucien’s hot mistress. We know she’s hot because the story tells us so, again and again and again. In fact, the first time you see her, she’s standing naked in front of a mirror, admiring her perky boobs and hot ass, before going off to screw her Gestapo boyfriend. (See, we know she’s bad because she sleeps with Germans.)
The next woman you see is Celeste, Lucien’s wife. Now, one might assume Lucien has a hot side piece because his wife is some hag he married out of convenience. Nope. She is SUPER HOT too. Only the best physical specimens for our Lucien. Their marriage is unhappy because Celeste is a bitch, because she can’t have a baby. (Lucien doesn’t seem particularly bothered by this, until he somehow ends up with a Jewish orphan on his hands and being a father is retroactively all he’s ever wanted in life.) Celeste, also, is tupping a German on the side. (Sex with Germans = evil.)
Finally, we get Bette, Lucien’s second mistress. She’s Adele’s friend, and oh, let’s repeatedly point out that she is WAY HOTTER than Adele despite having attained the ripe old age of 31. She’s probably the sexiest woman in the history of ever. Like Celeste she cannot have a child, having gotten her tubes tied (“Offsetting the crushing news was the realization that she could screw as much as she wanted and never have to worry about getting pregnant”–an actual sentence from this book, on page 226), but unlike Celeste or Adele she actually has a “mothering instinct” and is harboring two twee little Jewish children, and also not sleeping with any Germans, so we know she’s the good one.
Blech. Perhaps I’m being a prickly feminist. But the women in this book are entirely reduced to virgin/whore and it was really, incredibly distasteful.
The male characters aren’t treated much better, although at least they are valued for more than their sexual parts.
I came really close to DNFing this novel, but I’ve set myself a goal so I wanted to stick it out. Hopefully the next book on the list will be better.