The Paris Library – a Spoiler-Free Review

Thank you to NetGalley for this ARC.

I believe I am the exact demographic for which this book was written.

I have a Masters in Library and Information Sciences – a degree I pursued simply due to my love of books – so technically, I am a “librarian”. I am a Canadian who spent 8 years dreaming of a literary life in Paris and who now moved here. I spend most of my time (pre-pandemic) lost in books or between book stacks all around the city. I love historical fiction, particularly books that have a touch of fact and take place during WWII. In addition, I am married to a Jewish Parisian man. So it’s safe to say my expectations for this book were quite high — and I’m sad to say that I was left disappointed.

Let me start by saying that I am, by no means, an easy reviewer
And there were two aspects of this book that caused it to immediately lose a star:
One: It’s not a book I would consider re-reading and therefore is not a five-star book, plain and simple (it’s my rule).
Two: It’s a POV novel and I almost stopped reading entirely because I was so bored by Lily’s POV.

At about 10% of the book, it almost became a DNF because I was so completely bored by Lily’s storyline. Yes, Odile created a life in America and is shrouded in the ghosts of the past and mystery. But frankly, this new life of hers is a bore. And Lily is also terribly uninteresting. I only cared about Odile’s POV chapters. Every time it switched back to Lily I sighed and took a break from reading. Every time it was immersed in the life of Odile, I didn’t put the book down. Why are we supposed to care about Lily? I understand it’s a “life teaches you lessons/history repeats itself” situation but it could have been done without Lily’s chapters. She felt like filler. She adds nothing to Odile and Odile’s story.

That being said, another thing I did not understand is that Odile and Lily’s POV chapters were first-person and the random POV chapters that were slipped in throughout the novel switched to third-person. I understand it’s meant to be like a sneak-peek of a person looking in on that additional life, but it just made me want to skip the additional character chapters. It messed up the “flow” in my opinion. If you can’t tell, I really hate books with multiple POVs. Odile’s experience was full and complete and meaningful on its own. 

Now, let’s dive into a few quick thoughts I had on the book…

  • It was certainly well-written and I could imagine myself in the shoes of Odile, doing what she can during the most difficult of circumstances. While smuggling books seems like a minor offense, she could have been killed for this act of treason. As the Doctor (Who) once said, “Weapons? We are in a library! Books are the most powerful weapons in the world!”– this is true. Books encourage free-thought, resistance, a deeper understanding of the “enemy”, community, escape. Books are a tool and a refuge. 
  • Without spoilers, I do not understand Odile’s reaction to Lily’s behaviour when her reaction to Paul’s at the 70% mark – which was way more severe – was so much more lenient. Also, she was older in the Lily POV moments; would that not have made her wiser, and softer, and more compassionate? It really was a silly discrepancy, in my opinion. 
  • Odile, who is so book-smart, who is investigative, who is intelligent, how did she “miss” so much in this story? And again, without spoilers, how does Paul transform so quickly? It seemed like a rushed way to explain why Odile married Buck – and I have much to say about how that came about, as well. Had Odile not just realized that shoving everything under a rug instead of dealing with emotions was a terrible idea? Didn’t she have this revelation literally a page before? 
  • I learned a lot about France’s position in WWII and the history of many-a-general. I didn’t anticipate gaining so much knowledge from a historical fiction book, though it is inspired by true events. I also learned a lot about the French behaviour after the war, and it was probably one of the most appalling parts of the book to read, as details for much else were not really shared. 
  • The gift from Odile to Lily? Anyone who has lived in Paris (or is a born Parisian) knows that’s not truly French (but for tourists).
Me in 2018, just days after I followed my dreams and moved to Paris, France.
  • I don’t comprehend Odile – an old woman – getting advice from a teenager with jealousy issues. It’s silly to me. It’s further proof that Lily’s piece in this story just doesn’t fit.

  • My biggest issue with this novel is that Odile would remain connected to someone fraternizing with Nazis. In addition, the author’s attempt to gaslight Odile at the end – “It was for you!” – and the sad way in which this scene is written to make us sympathize with the character is a bit vomit-inducing. It’s written like this disgusting betrayal can be excused by love or comfort or assistance. I can tell you now that I’d rather go hungry than befriend a Nazi. I’m surprised the author seems to write this in a way that sounds “reasonable” or “excusable”. This part caused the book to lose a star, immediately.

  • Chapter 47 was ridiculous and truly not believable that Odile would choose that route.

  • How is Lily – unpopular, mediocre grades, invisible Lily – valedictorian? Silly. At this point, I just wanted the book to be done; I was so disappointed with what it became.

  • I was quite broken-hearted reading this novel, especially at the mention of “Crow Letters” – “From black-hearted people who spy on neighbors, colleagues, and friends. Even family members.” — This has existed during the pandemic. Bored, black-hearted Parisians telling on their neighbours to police for, “Going out too often,” “Not wearing a mask in the apartment building,” or on suspicions of, “Having people over who do not live there.” History has repeated itself, and in difficult times, Parisians have continued to out and try and ruin the lives of their community members. “These “crows” have convinced themselves they’re doing their patriotic duty.” It breaks my heart because I fear that if the atrocities of WWII happened now, it would again be the French Jews outed by their French neighbours. Parisians showed their true colours during this pandemic.

In all honesty, I probably would have given this book four stars until the last 10% of the novel. This seemed rush, irrational, illogical, contradictive, and just like a messy attempt to tie up loose ends and explain things (without much reason) and I reached a -disappointing- point where I couldn’t wait for the story to be over.

I wanted to love this book. The synopsis spoke to me in ways I hadn’t really found with other Parisian Historical Fiction texts. But, alas, I was let down. I was excited, I was falling in love, I was eager to read more, and then I was dropped from the beautiful Parisian rooftops into the pee-filled metros of Paris…

Have you read this book? What did you think?

xx C


16 thoughts on “The Paris Library – a Spoiler-Free Review”

  1. I haven’t read this one, but I love your honest review. I don’t read much historical fiction in general, so this one wasn’t on my radar. Bummer that it was a disappointment though, I hate when that happens!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading — my reviews are always (sometimes brutally) honest, you can be sure of that! I go into genre moods and historical fiction is where I’m at, right now. What’s your genre of choice?


  2. Oh wow! I’m so sorry you disliked this book so much – that’s a huge bummer. I’m surprised you still gave it three stars based on your thoughts! I’ve been planning to read this at some point – trying to get myself back into historical fiction, which is a genre I typically don’t enjoy – so I’ll have to keep what you thought in mind when I go to pick it up. Though it seems like we have quite different tastes when it comes to fiction!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bwaahahha I was surprised at the 3 stars too – but it wasn’t *bad*. I did like it, I was just left disappointed by many pieces of it and wanting more. I’m interested to hear your take when you get to it!


  3. I honestly appreciate your very honest reviews – I like hard reviewers because I find that the books they actually enjoy to be the best! One of my best friends is a librarian as well (also has a Masters in Library Science) and she also told me she didn’t like this book for very similar reasons. I trust both of you, it sounds like I wouldn’t enjoy it either!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree! I always read the 2-3 star reviews of a book to really get a feel for it before I buy it. So interesting that your librarian friend felt the same!!!


  4. Found the Characters hard to recognize as the story proceeded.. Who was Carol Ann who made the chocolate cake at the end of the story. Such a nice chance to wrap up the whole story with serious observation – There must be something I am missing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree with the review and your notes. But my biggest issue is the ending. Are we to take it that the lady in the brimmed hat was Margaret and that Odile had reconnected with her?
    I also agree Chapter 47 was so slapdash and silly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I struggled to get to chapter 7 and wanted to throw the book out the window. I felt it was boring and it was written as “one liners” – no story line. I might still throw it out the window prior to my book club meeting.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for your spot on review! I agree with so many of your viewpoints, especially that the “Paris” sections were so engaging while the “Montana” segments were flat out boring. But what caused me to really scratch my head was the drastic change in behavior of Paul and the rushed wedding of Lily. I wanted to throw the book against a wall! Overall I gave the book three stars. Good enough to finish, not good enough to recommend.
    (Also, I was pleased another person questioned the ending: was the lady in the brimmed hat Margaret? I assumed it was, but I wanted to be assured of that!).

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I googled “Lady in Brimmed Hat” on this book just to see if I was the only one who wondered about the ending. Also appreciate that someone else questioned the character Carol Ann! Dying mother/stepmother/teenage daughter storyline and a completely uncharacteristic behaviors (like the elopement) made this a less-than-stellar book for me.
    My favorite reads are set in England—historical fiction, particularly about WWI and WWII, and mysteries. Doubly happy when they’re well-written series that take you from meeting an interesting character to following along their life’s progression.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I liked the book a lot but thought the ending was very rushed. I was shocked by Paul’s actions. Thougjt that came out of nowhere. I’m also puzzled why odile did not want to talk to her mother or keep contact with anyone in france. Unless I’m missing something

    Liked by 1 person

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