Sunday, October 7, 2012

Siren of Paris by David LeRoy - Book Review

The Siren of Paris by David LeRoy is the first self-published primarily e-book I've read.  It was offered to me by an agent and sent to my Kindle. It has proven itself to be a nice way to be introduced to a new and promising writer.  There are all kinds of traps a writer can fall into when he decides to self-publish. For instance, he could write a piece of self-indulgent tripe of no particular value. Fortunately, he has avoided this pitfall, perhaps the most dangerous of all, although there is a need for some line editing and, perhaps, tightening. But given the tendency toward exactly the kind of self-indulgence I fear in novels released by major publishing houses, I'll forgive LeRoy whatever editing and copyreading issues I found. Once I thought I had caught him in a major anachronism, but button down collars were invented by Brooks Brothers long before World War II.

As the novel opens aboard ship in 1939, we find Marc Tolbert, an American/French dual citizen who has dropped out of medical school (at Harvard?) to return to France to study art traveling on the luxury liner Normandie, where he has met a cast of witty, literate, arty characters who will populate his story. While the specter of Hitler casts a shadow over the voyage, there is a general tone of upper class gay abandon in first class. Upon getting to Paris, Marc enrolls in art school where he meets Marie, who is modeling in a figure drawing class, and they fall in love. Before long, they are engaged to marry after the coming war. Meanwhile, conditions deteriorate as Hitler's horror descends on Europe. Marc's art education ends, as he goes to work for Sumner Bullitt, the U.S. ambassador to France, helping Americans and Jews escape from France.   Soon, it become necessary for Marc to try to escape. With points of exit becoming increasingly harder to find, he eventually embarks on the RMS Lancastria, which is sunk by a German U-boat. This incident shows LeRoy's attention to historical detail, as the Lancastria was an actual ship torpedoed by the Germans and represents perhaps the greatest loss of life suffered in a ship's sinking in history, and becomes a major metaphor in Marc's future.

The story is told through a series of relatively short vignettes with Marc surviving the sinking and going to work in a rural hospital before feeling a strong call to return to Paris, the siren song. Back in Paris working for the French underground, he secretly in plain sight moving downed pilots and refugees out of the country while keeping his cover, until Marie turns up again in his life.  His life in the underground is revealed as LeRoy warps time to create an aura of both mystery and realization. The story often slips over into the metaphysical, as those lost in Marc's past appear in his dreams and, perhaps, in his reality. His life spirals downward with his arrest and interrogation by the Gestapo and his desire to protect his colleagues in the resistance. LeRoy's evocation of life in the underground and, later, in Auschwitz and Buchenwald is realistic and harrowing. The story has narrative drive and shows insight into both character and the many of the troubling aspects of the situation.

David LeRoy

Self publishing is fraught with danger to the author, yet may be the window into the future of both literature and music, as book publishers and recording companies are increasingly challenged by the model of the (almost) free Internet.  LeRoy, in a guest post in a book blog writes about the idea of the shadow as found in the works of psychoanalyst C. G. Jung. His book is filled with the shadows his characters create for themselves, an interesting and arresting literary device as well as psychoanalytic theory.  He writes about himself, "In writing my first novel, The Siren of Paris, I drew upon my long time interest in philosophy, the visual arts, myth, storytelling, psychology, and Ocean Liner travel. During a visit to France to study art in the fall of 2010, I became increasingly intrigued by the French Resistance, particularly when my research revealed the role of Americans in the Resistance, as well as the limited means of escape from Europe as the war escalated. I hold a bachelor of arts in philosophy and religion."

The Siren of Paris by David LeRoy is a self-published novel available through Amazon in a Kindle edition at $6.99. It may also be purchased in trade paperbound format. The novel is a worthwhile first novel, and I look forward to further work from this intriguing and serious writer.