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BOOK REVIEW: Paris Dreaming by Katrina Lawrence

| 4 August 2018 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Paris Dreaming by Katrina Lawrence

Harper Collins
November 2017
Hardcover, $35.00
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Non-Fiction / Biographies & True Stories / Memoirs

6/10

Some people dream of New York. Others find London calling. For Australian beauty editor and journalist Katrina Lawrence, Paris is all that, as she writes in a book that is part memoir, travelogue, beauty manifesto and history lesson. The result, Paris Dreaming, is a good idea in theory but it’s one that overreaches in terms of its content because some parts of this book are overlong and frivolous while others will certainly resonate with a certain readership of Francophiles and optimists.

Most of my first Parisian memories faded, but enough remained suspended in a shimmering blur — like my souvenir snowdome, with its frenzy of glitter swirling around a miniature Notre-Dame and Eiffel Tower. For a girl living in the hazy humdrum of 1970s suburban Melbourne, Paris was a scintillating parallel universe, the place where everything shone, where every tilt of the head revealed a golden dome, glossy cherubs smiling down, or shutter-framed windows offering tantalising flashes into chandelier-lit salons. Paris was my City of Light, before I’d even heard the expression.

Lawrence has visited Paris more times then she can remember, which is lucky for her because some readers may never have had a chance to visit at all. In this book, Lawrence describes her trips there and frames these in terms of her memories from the time and the period she was at in her life. Her first trip as a girl at the age of five with her parents – including her mother who is of French descent – is very different from the part where she is heartbroken in her twenties, for instance. The arc in this book ultimately sees Lawrence grow from fille to femme and mademoiselle to madame.

I thought about my many times there: I’d skipped in the snow like my childhood girl-crush Madeline; as a teenager, I flounced around the streets like some silly baby Bardot; I’d come to Paris to commemorate the end of school and university, to prepare me for the next stages of life and help hone my sense of self; I’d had occasional flings and flirtations there, and overcome my first major heartbreak; and I’d hopped and partied away more than should be legal. But whatever role I was playing at the time, Paris provided the perfect backdrop. And now? I wondered what stop in the itinerary of life I had come to, and how Paris would direct me from there.

The prose here is very rich and evocative at times. There will be moments where the reader can almost taste the bubbly champagne or the crusty baguette and cheese that Lawrence consumes. These moments provide nice little slices of simplicity and escapism that support the French sense of “joie de vivre” or joy in living. But they are also a rather rose-tinted view of things that can be a million miles away from the gritty truth and reality that some people face. In fact, some readers may find these moments a tad too indulgent and frivolous at times.

I had become quite accustomed to quaffing champagne. My job saw me attending at least one product launch per day, which almost always entailed a line-up of tuxedo-clad waiters bearing silver trays decorated with champagne-filled glasses.

A large part of this book is dedicated to fashion and make-up, which should come as no surprise when we consider Lawrence’s background. But it is also something that some readers won’t necessarily be interested in. They may however, be entertained by other parts where Lawrence offers up travel tips and history lessons on the likes of Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Marcel Proust, to name a few. It is interesting to note that Lawrence claims she may be distantly related to the latter writer.

The Algeria-born [Albert] Camus was an Existentialist, but, unlike Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, he never felt as though he fitted into the world, certainly not Paris…
At the time, I thought how apt. We were two outsiders, desperately wanting to belong. We were perhaps both a bit lost. I wasn’t sure I wanted to try to merge our particular Parisian dreams — my romantic, feminine one with his modernist, masculine one — so I made to leave.

It is obvious from this book that Lawrence’s love affair with Paris has been deep and long. Paris Dreaming is well-researched and you get the sense that she wants to share the insights and knowledge that she has acquired over her life-long journey of discovery in this French city. In this respect she succeeds, but you have to be aware that her view is warm, idealistic and romantic, designed for the eternal optimist, not the curmudgeon. An English comedian named Arthur Smith once told me that, “You’ve never been to Paris until you’ve been served by a rude, Parisian waiter.” Let’s agree that his experience of Paris is one that is very different to the glamour and elegance that Lawrence seeks out and revels in.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been to Paris. I used to wonder why I was so magnetically drawn to this city. Was there a deeper reason than the sheer prettiness? What was the plotline between the picture-perfect scenery? While strolling along the boulevards or swanning by the Seine, was I starring in my own personal romantic comedy, where I’d bump into the homme of my dreams? Or did Paris hold the key to understanding how to grow as a person, as a femme? Because this, after all, is a city that has been deeply infused with the spirit of so many of history’s strong, sagacious, seductive women.

The chapters in this title are beautifully illustrated by Clementine Campardou. There is also a simple black and white photograph of the author as a child in front of the Arc de Triomphe included. A brief look at the writer’s Facebook page reveals that she is also an adept photographer so it is a pity that none of these personal photographs from Paris are printed in this otherwise gorgeous volume.

Talking about social justice while savouring truffle risotto and sipping vintage champagne in a five-star restaurant only makes true sense in Paris. Because the French believe as much in the concept of equality for all, as they do in luxury for all. Everyone can — and should — aim high.

Paris Dreaming is a whimsical and saccharine look at some holidays and stints undertaken by an Australian in Paris. This memoir and travelogue is brimming with different anecdotes and stories- some are fun and fabulous while others are throwaway and lightweight. Almost all of Lawrence’s recollections are written with a sense of levity and celebration of the famous city of love, and while this should strike a chord with Francophiles, romantics, and optimists who enjoy such things, other readers will just have to set out and create their own Parisian dreams.

Natalie Salvo

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

About the Author ()

Natalie Salvo is a foodie and writer from Sydney. You can find her digging around in second hand book shops or submerged in vinyl crates at good record stores. Her websites are: http://nataliesalvo.wordpress.com and www.myshitdate.com

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