Score: 93/100 (9.3 out of 10)
“Paris Blue” is a drama-filled memoir by Julie Scolnik chronicling her decade-plus, on and off romantic relationship with a Frenchman named Luc, a lover who shares Julie's passion for classical and baroque music. This book has several dimensions and layers.
This book reminds us of several books that we've read this year: “No Perfect Love” by Dr. Alyson Nerenberg (non-fiction) and “A Major League Love” by Domenic Melillo (fiction). All of these books highlight the twists and turns that life and love can take. Something unique about “Paris Blue” by Julie Scolnik, however, is that it especially highlights the “rose-tinted goggles” of idealism that lovers often have at first, leading to disappointments and shattered expectations. It's about what happens when the perfect love isn't so perfect, and it's also about a woman's journey to self-discovery.
First and foremost, "Paris Blue" is a will-they/won't-they romance about Julie and Luc. To say that this is the heart and soul of the book would be an understatement. The sexual and romantic tension is high throughout, and we are frustrated when Julie is frustrated, we are sad when Julie is sad, and we are angry when Julie is angry. We often find ourselves on Julie's side of the aisle, typical of an autobiography or memoir. It's very difficult to see things from the perspective of our other main character, Luc. In a lot of ways, he comes across to us as detestable and unlikable. In other words, this relationship almost always seems one-sided and often borders on manipulative and abusive, and we're guessing that can be a great morality tale for others to get out of these types of manipulative and abusive relationships. Remember that abuse isn't always physical, it can be mental and psychological. It comes in the form of neglect and manipulation.
The second layer or dimension of this book is how it's kind of a coming of age story about Julie, young and naive, learning to come to terms with her changing feelings, her changing body, and her changing world. We're with Julie from the age of 17—right at the cusp of becoming a full-fledged woman—and we journey with her into the middle of adulthood in which she becomes more mature, self-confident, and independent. We also see her journey as a musician, going from a hobbyist to someone who can be invited to perform at concerts.
The third layer or dimension of this book, and arguably the one we wish was further explored, is the culture shock that Julie experiences in transiting between America and France (and vice-versa). Julie absolutely detests the term “culture shock” and seems to go out of her way to avoid highlighting differences between America and France. Interestingly, Luc has the opposite point of view. Luc constantly sees America and Americans as different, and he openly criticizes and talks down about them. About a month ago, we'd read “Just Arrived” by Bona Udeze, a book about a Nigerian immigrant's interesting experiences in moving to America—full of culture shock, adapting to new foods, strange habits, and a fresh start. There's just an element of that missing with “Paris Blue.” For a book with “Paris” in the title, we don't really see or learn much about the place. It's in the background. When Julie moves to and fro Paris, it is described as just being like any other big city, not much different from Boston where she eventually ends up. She walks the streets, takes buses, goes to restaurants, and attends or performs at concerts. You could do that in New York City. You could do that in Salt Lake City. You could do that in Honolulu or London. You could do that in Sydney or Dubai. This aspect of the book remains so criminally under-explored, unfortunately, especially when compared to something like “Just Arrived”--a top-notch book about moving to a new country.
One of the things we debated in literary terms was whether or not Luc could be considered a protagonist, a secondary protagonist, a love interest, an anti-hero, or a straight-up villain—a bad guy akin to someone like the manipulative, vindictive Cynthia from “A Major League Love.” You could argue either way, or even that he's all of these things. But to us personally, he's a villain. He's only about a notch of villainy lower than Wally Mussel—the abusive, exploitative boss from “My Famous Brain” by Diane Wald. Luc is a demonic, Titanic piece of crap walking God's green earth in our opinion. Sorry. And the fact that Julie kept believing his lies and crawling back to him, especially after that knife incident in which Luc dismisses and ignores her as she's bleeding profusely, frustrates and angers us greatly. Or perhaps we're displacing some personal frustrations.
The fact of the matter is, this book is relatable. Many of us have been in relationships like this. Many of us have found ourselves afraid or unwilling to let go, even long after the point of no return. Scolnik captures that feeling perfectly.
You can check out the book on Amazon!