Five Days in Paris

Nighttime photo of the Eiffel Tower
Icon and plot are predictable.

In Five Days in Paris, Danielle Steel puts a different spin on her usual romance formula.

The story is about Peter Haskell, marketing man for a major pharmaceutical company who is pushing development of what he hopes will be a break-through drug for cancer treatment.

Steel makes Peter rich, charming, virtuous, and emotionally obtuse. She also has him married to the devoted, only-child of company’s CEO. Peter spent his life trying to escape his farm-boy upbringing; he has maintained no family ties.

In Paris on a trip to meet with a scientist evaluating the new drug, Peter meets Olivia Thatcher, wife of a US senator whose presidential ambition has become all-consuming. Since their baby died, Olivia and Andy have scarcely spoken.

Olivia and Peter spend an entire night talking when the Ritz at which both are staying is evacuated because of a bomb threat. By morning they have become each other’s best friend.

The following day, Olivia “pulls an Agatha Christie,” and disappears. Peter finds her and for the next three days they lovers. Then they each go back to their own lives.

Steel contrives a happy ending, but Five Days feels as if the real story is Peter’s other, earlier days.

Five Days in Paris by Danielle Steel
Delacourt. ©1995. 269 p.
1995 bestseller #03; my grade: C+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Arch of Triumph dark for refugees on eve of WWII

Arch of Triumph is Erich Maria Remarque’s psychological novel about a German refugee in Paris on the eve of World War II.

Arch of Triumph by Erich Maria Remarque

Unable to practice medicine legally after the Gestapo seized his identity papers and tortured him, a once-famous surgeon has fled to Paris. Between deportations, Dr. Ravic performs illegal operations for inept doctors and treats whores in a brothel.

Arch of Triumph by Erich Maria Remarque

Walter Sorell & Denver Lindley, trans. D. Appleton-Century, 1945. 455 p.

1946 Bestseller #7. My grade: A. 1946 Bestseller #7. My grade: A.

Ravic drifts into a relationship with singer Joan Madou but remains emotionally dead, a “refugee from everything that is permanent,” including love.

His only hope is for revenge.

Encountering his Gestapo enemy, Ravic kills without regret, but also without satisfaction.

As soon as France declares war on Germany on Sept. 3, 1939, refugees are packed off to a concentration camp on a night “so dark that one could not even see the Arc de Triomphe.”

But Ravic goes into the darkness carrying his instruments and medicine, telling others, “Don’t be afraid.”

Arch of Triumph is not easy reading.

Remarque deliberately makes readers unravel the characters’ histories: Refugees must conceal themselves.

And the idea of civilians caught in a military operation is gloomy and painful.

In ’39, the German refugee was interned in France. Today, the Syrian refugee is interned in Turkey or Greece.

Same song, different verse.

And that is why Arch of Triumph is still worth reading today.

 © 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Nothing routine about Time and Time Again

dustjacket of Time and TIme Again

Time and Time Again is primarily character study, but a superbly plotted one, and James Hilton’s totally unpredictable ending is entirely plausible.

Charles Anderson, 52, is a British career diplomat. To date, his public life has been respectably dull aside intermittent painful episodes resulting from his father’s descent into dementia.

Charles bears the knowledge that his friends call him “Stuffy” with a mingled pride and humility. In his affectionate tolerance of his father, he demonstrates the integrity that inspires the respect of both friend and foe.

Charles is assisting in some tricky negotiations with the Russians at a Paris conference when, to celebrate Gerald’s 17th birthday, he asks his son to join him. Since Gerald was sent to America after his mother was killed in the blitz, Charles has seen little of his son. Charles hopes the dinner will begin a relationship that will flourish when he retires.

When Gerald hurries away from the dinner, Charles follows. He walks in on the boy with a woman in an American-style soda fountain.

While he’s trying to cover his embarrassment occasioned as much by the American cuisine as the assignation, Charles is further embarrassed by the appearance of his adversary from the conference, the Russian negotiator Palan.

This is an unexpectedly good novel that can be read time and time again.

Time and Time Again
By James Hilton
Little, Brown, 1953
306 pages
1953 bestseller #8
My grade B+

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Clichés and cliffhangers fill Helmet of Navarre

Bertha Runkle’s Helmet of Navarre is a thriller set in 16th century France with a new intrigue at every turn of the page and a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter.

France is in turmoil after the murder of Henry III. Huguenots under Henry of Navarre battle the Catholic League led by the Duc Mayenne. After three years’ deliberation, the Duc of St. Quentin has decided to throw his weight behind Navarre, although his son Etienne is in love with the Lorance, ward of the head of the Catholic party.

When St. Quentin openly goes to Paris, which is controlled by the Catholic League, his page, Felix Broux, follows him to the city. His first night, Felix sees three men in a supposedly unoccupied haunted house. He gets in through an unlocked window and drops into a plot to have Etienne kill St. Quentin.

Runkle pulls out every cliché to keep the story going: mistaken identity, secret tunnels, stolen ciphers, and the obligatory disguised hero visiting his girlfriend in the enemy camp.

Runkle’s fast pace keeps readers from noticing the string of coincidences substituting for a plot is too thin to support scrutiny or that the characters are no more substantial than the plot. If readers notice how weak the novel is, that realization won’t come until after they’ve enjoyed swashbuckling entertainment.

Project Gutenberg

Helmet of Navarre
by Bertha Runkle
Illus. by Andre Castaigne
Century, 1901
Project Gutenberg e-book #14219
My grade: B-

©2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Shock value gone from Tropic of Cancer

The Tropic of Cancer is the first of Henry Miller’s banned books of the 1930s to make landfall legally in the US, where its notoriety propelled it to number 5 on the 1961 bestseller list.

The book is presented as a memoir of an unnamed American ex-patriot  in Paris in the years between the wars. He’s does some writing, some proofreading, and some teaching, but mostly he panhandles, boozes, and whores.

Millers’ narrator says the book is a “prolonged insult” to traditional values, but it won’t insult readers today. The “dirty words” that got the novel canned are simply part of Miller’s  reportage. Today you’d hear the same language used with more enthusiasm in a middle school cafeteria, though Miller uses the terms with more precision than preteens.

The Tropic of Cancer has about as much story line as a grocery list. It is equally short on characterization.

There’s no denying Miller can write. The problem is that he nothing to say to today’s readers. Little shocks readers today, and too many other writers have shown the decay in our society in more interesting stories.

Bypass the Tropic of Cancer for pleasanter climes.

The Tropic of Cancer
by Henry Miller
Grove Press, 1961
1961 #6
321 pages
My grade: C

© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Mrs. ‘Arris as Warming as a Nice, Hot Cuppa

The heroine of  Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris is a “char,” one of the army of self-employed London cleaning women.  Mrs. ‘Arris lives by her wits and her dust rags, making enough to cover her expenses and occasionally go to the pictures.

One day she sees a Dior gown in a client’s closet and decides she must have one. A lucky choice in the football pool starts her on her way. Scrimping and saving she gets the rest for the dress and  the trip to Paris.

The trip is a series of challenges.

By law, people can take only 10 English pounds out of  the country and Mrs. ‘Arris needs 450 £ just for the dress.

She’s unprepared for Dior’s invitation-only showing and waiting to have her selection made for her.

Then there’s the problem of getting the dress back through customs without getting pinched for smuggling.

Mrs. ‘Arris is a sweetheart. Her pluck, friendliness, and interest in people win her friends everywhere. Without doing more than being herself, she makes a match between Dior’s most important model and it’s chief auditor, gets a promotion for the husband of Dior’s manager, and improves foreign relations.

Paul Gallico’s slim, sentimental novel will warm you as comfortably as a  nice, hot cuppa.

Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris
By Paul Gallico
Drawings by  Gioia Fiammenghi
Doubleday, 1958
157 pages
1959 bestseller # 9
My Grade: B-
© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Eloise is a brat on any continent

Kay Thompson hit the 1956 top ten with—of all things—a picture book about a child who lives at the Plaza Hotel. It’s sequel, Eloise in Paris, opens with the Eloise, enfant terrible, getting a cablegram: She’s going to Paris.

At six, Eloise can’t travel by herself, so Nanny accompanies her. Hilary Knight’s très agreable drawings show what happens on the trip.

Actuellement, what happens in Paris is that Eloise makes a nuisance of herself, pretty much as she does at home. In Paris, however, she gets to parler francais to show how clever she is.

Eloise is beaucoup de hyperactive, beaucoup de undisciplined, beaucoup de uncontrollable. Would you want such an enfant terrible in your maison? Mais non!

Normally, j’aime children’s books, but I don’t aime Eloise.

The best thing about Eloise in Paris (besides the illustrations) is that it’s short. For that I say, “Merci beaucoup!” Je ne sais pas how anyone could find Eloise amusing. I have an absolument desire to throttle the little brat.

Eloise in Paris is fun for adults, but I don’t recommend it for children. They might see Eloise as a role model, which would be rawther a disaster.

Eloise in Paris
By Kay Thompson
Drawings by Hilary Knight
Simon & Schuster, 1957
#6 on the 1957 bestseller list
My grade: D+

  © 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni