A novel of Paris, family secrets, and catastrophic weather, from Franco-British author de Rosnay.
In Paris, the severity of flooding is traditionally measured by how close the waters of the Seine come to submerging the statue of a colonial soldier near the Pont de l’Alma. In de Rosnay’s (Manderley Forever, 2017, etc.) latest novel, the river rises to the statue’s waist and beyond, disrupting the weekend plans of the Malegarde family. Paul, an eminent arborist; his wife, Lauren, an American who toured Europe in the 1970s with her sister, Candice, and never left; their son, Linden, a world-renowned photographer; and daughter, Tilia, a not-so-renowned painter, meet at a hotel to celebrate Paul’s 70th birthday. Rain has been unusually constant even for January (presumably 2018). Linden, whose perspective dominates, is genteelly estranged from his parents and sister. His mother could never accept his gayness, which is why he left his father’s ancestral village to spend his adolescence living with Tante Candice in her 15th arrondissement apartment. Paul always reserved his most fervent emotions for trees. He suffers a stroke at his birthday dinner and is hospitalized. In view of his saintliness, it seems excessive for de Rosnay to silence him this way, with occasional cryptic diary entries and a baffling obsession with David Bowie as the only clues to his character. The family reunion is further complicated when Lauren develops pneumonia, the trauma underlying Tilia’s hospital phobia surfaces, her drunken husband comes to town, and the tragedy of Candice’s last days is revealed. The evocation of Paris is worthy of Modiano, and de Rosnay’s projection of the city’s worst deluge since 1910 is not only horrifying, but timely after the actual Seine floods of January 2018. However, the novel is long on rumination and summary, short on dialogue and forward momentum. The timing of the personal revelations seems arbitrary or, at best, anticlimactic.
The weather and Paris are the main attractions here, not the people.