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An American down and out in Paris
The Woman in the Fifth - Douglas Kennedy
Member Name: lillamarta
The Woman in the Fifth - Douglas Kennedy
Date: 12/03/10, updated on 05/08/10 (109 review reads)
Advantages: Well-written narrative, great characterisation, twists and turns
Disadvantages: The ending for me
I bought and read 'The Woman in the Fifth' by Douglas Kennedy recently for two reasons. First, I really liked one of his previous books, A Special Relationship I read a year or two ago and had decided back then to read more from the author. Secondly, and most importantly, it was the blurb on the back of 'The Woman in the Fifth' that ultimately sold me on.
~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~
Born in Manhattan in 1955, Douglas Kennedy is a contemporary author of popular fiction novels - many of them bestsellers and translated into over a dozen languages. His most well-known works include The Big Picture (1998) and The Pursuit of Happiness (2002). He currently resides in the UK and spends his time be-tween London, Berlin and Paris.
~ THE PLOT ~ * no spoilers *
Forty-something Harry Ricks embarks in Paris or rather finds refuge in Paris after being sacked from his job as a film lecturer in a typical Midwestern art college in the States. Down and out, things aren't looking good. When he ends up in a questionable accommodation run by the Turkish community and gets a night job from them, he's at least able to stay but already caught up in these people's affairs, soon enough, trouble looms.
One evening, he meets Margit, a mysterious woman in her fifties. She's beautiful, enigmatic, and as we learn later, a Hungarian political immigrant from the 1950s, and lives in the chic and affluent 5th arrondissement of Paris. Unaware and naive, he's happy to obey her strange rules in this twisted game of seduction...
What secrets are hid behind the lives of illegal immigrants? What dangers does Margit have in store for him?
~ WRITING STYLE ~
The book is written in the first person, Harry recounting his experience of a tumultuous start of a year spent in Paris. I immediately identified with the main character. Like many others, I've been down and out in Paris myself more than a decade ago. Kennedy made me relive my experiences I had, the long, lonely walks along the Seine, the smoky cafés, the chilly wintertime, being sick and unable to face the day while staying at a youth hostel near the Eiffel Tower, and the rare job interviews I had scattered across town.
What made the pages so easy to turn is the fact that Kennedy writes in a very readable, spoken style pep-pered with witty observations and spot-on descriptions of places, people and situations. Though Harry's narration mostly ranges between self-pity and self-sarcasm verging on being annoying sometimes, his acute observations of people and places are all very enjoyable.
~ CHARACTERISATION ~
We do get an indication early on that Harry is not a flawless person; in fact, he's running away from a lot more than just a lost job. Despite this, he is still a likeable fellow, a fallible, but ultimately, human being. I felt an enormous sympathy for Harry.
What is remarkable about Kennedy is that once again in his books, he manages to slip into his protagonist's mind. His powerful and emphatic story-telling actually make us, readers experience first-hand what the main character himself feels and thinks.
The secondary characters were also quite believable including Margit's, though as a woman, I found it diffi-cult to capture her essence, but that may be down to the fact that we saw everything from Harry's point of view, who being entirely seduced by her, he didn't see how manipulative and sometimes even cruel she was to him.
~ READING EXPERIENCE ~
I practically devoured the pages from the start. I was overjoyed to find someone like Harry with his inner ramblings and awkward situations in a city I've also known from its not so glamorous side. Without revealing too much, at some later point, the story does depart from the utterly down-to-earth, believable and 'could happen to me' story of a wannabe writer searching for inspiration in the city of lights and ends up in something sinister and surrealist.
The way the events in the book were turning into a big jumble of inexplicable things reminded me of 'The Bedroom Secret of the Master Chefs' from Irvine Welsh. If you liked that book in question, you'll most likely enjoy The Woman in the Fifth, they are quite similar plotwise. In my opinion, and this is a question of taste - the story would have been so much better without it.
~ CONCLUSION ~
As again, Kennedy played the 'romance mixed with a bit of a crime' story card well in this book. His talent of characterisation and empathy have also come across well in 'The Woman in the Fifth'.
The incongruent, Hitchcockien happenings did create a 'whodunnit' atmosphere and you couldn't help but guessing and read on. Once this side introduced though, for me the book felt tainted and left me wondering as to the author's motive behind such a plot.
To sum up, a well thought-out, great story of our lives with some crime and mystery thrown in. It was less enjoyable for me than A Special Relationship that stayed believable throughout. Expect some brutal and graphic descriptions towards the end too.
~ PRICE AND AVAILABILITY ~
Retail price at bookstores: £6.99
Amazon UK: From £0.01 used or £0.70 new
Thanks for reading.
©powered by lillybee also posted on ciao.co.uk
Summary: All in all a good novel from Kennedy, though the final part ruined it for me.