Storied globetrotting newspaperman Joe Shelby and his longtime friend and editor Ed Clancy, newly installed as glorified web-copy providers at the Paris Star, curse the exigencies of the digital age while basking in their memories of the hallowed age of print.
Shelby, introduced in New York Times veteran Cowell's 2003 debut, A Walking Guide, is one of those hard-drinking, sprawling, larger-than-life characters who finds fulfillment in conflict and regret—and the sound of his own versions of reality. Haunted for years by his stalled romance with the fearless female war photographer Faria Duclos, and stung by her dalliances with journalistic nemeses of his, Shelby is an inveterate womanizer—more so now that physical ailments are overtaking him, and Faria, who still loves him, is dying. A low-key indictment of an era in journalism in which speed is more important than accuracy and behind-the-scenes struggles now take place in private computer queues, The Paris Correspondent is more boldly a paean to the days when bylines were fought and sweated over, facts ruled—and newsrooms weren't so damned quiet. There isn't much plot, but people, places and war zones whiz by enjoyably and Paris is beautifully evoked (Clancy is married to a classy horse-breeder named Marie-Claire who takes him to all the right events). The British-born Cowell reveals a strong debt to Hemingway in his depiction of the male friendship and the men's identification with the values of a vanishing era (Shelby idolizes the French Romantic poet Gérard de Nerval). There's also a touch of Kingsley Amis in Shelby's satiric dimensions and of Saul Bellow's Ravelstein in the book's late-in-the-day confessions.
A stylish, expertly drawn novel about the characters who made journalism what it was, and whose disappearance is making journalism what it is now.