A young man struggles to find meaning in his life as he travels between Europe and Canada, finding new loves and new interests along the way in this nonlinear novel.
Born in Canada, Lewis Sterne nevertheless comes to think of Paris as the place where his life begins. Learning to be French proves to be an excellent tool for exploring the city and bringing it to life through detailed description—not just of sights and sounds, but of the city’s rhythms. In Paris, Lewis develops an interest in two things that will continue to shape his life: music and girls. An accomplished pianist, he frequently reflects on the nature and beauty of music and what its pursuit means to him. These passages indicate what’s to come, as the book becomes increasingly reflective and inward-looking while Lewis grows up and the narrative bends philosophical as he struggles to understand the world in light of his deepening feelings. Stories of the many loves in his life—reconnecting with childhood friend Sheila, dallying with Arabella in Montreal, meeting older Ariadna on a student trip to Europe, falling for Grace back home, living with wild Niobe and Lily in London, etc.—provide the majority of the day-to-day narrative, which anchors Lewis on his travels throughout Europe. Much of the second half of the book explores philosophical ideas, with an occasional glimpse into Lewis’ life. The story can be confusing at times, since more clarity is needed around how old Lewis is and, in some cases, where exactly he’s living. This confusion is only enhanced by the fact that there aren’t any chapter breaks. Dialogue tends to be dramatic, and extra characters are often used as mouthpieces for philosophical ideas about women, sex, God, existence and ethics. Overall, though, the novel offers an impressively detailed, deep look at life that will especially appeal to readers interested in academic philosophy or literature.
Intimate, reflective and worthy of a thoughtful read; don’t rush this one.