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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

P.S. from Paris

Marc Levy

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To purchase P.S. from Paris

Title: P.S. from Paris
Author: Marc Levy
Genre: Novel
Written: 2015 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 295 pages
Original in: French
Availability: P.S. from Paris - US
P.S. from Paris - UK
P.S. from Paris - Canada
Elle et lui - Canada
Elle et lui - France
Er & Sie - Deutschland
Lei & lui - Italia
Ella y él - España
  • French title: Elle et lui
  • Translated by Sam Taylor

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Our Assessment:

B- : appealing-enough light froth, much of the way -- but goes off the rails in its conclusion

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly A 17/7/2017 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A)n enchanting story of unexpected love and the fickle nature of fate. (...) With sassy characters and a refreshing narrative, Levy delays the inevitable in clever ways, allowing for personality quirks and believable foibles to make the steady descent into romance a fun ride." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       P.S. from Paris brings together a not particularly successful American-in-Paris novelist, Paul, and Mia Grinberg -- a world-famous movie-star better known by her stage name, Melissa Barlow.
       Paul is puttering along: he left America after the success of his first novel, and in the seven years he's been in Paris he's published five more, but they haven't done particularly well -- except, oddly, in South Korea. He lives a relatively solitary life -- happy, when he's writing, in his imagined world: "in the company of characters who had become his friends", while turning his back on much of the real world around him:

Growing wary of affairs with Parisian women, whose mood swings he found incomprehensible, he had chosen celibacy.
       The only woman in his life is his Korean translator, Kyong, who visits twice a year for a week, making for a limited but still intense relationship; Paul isn't sure quite how strongly he feels about her, but he does miss her when she's far away.
       Meanwhile, Mia has had enough of her husband David (who is also an actor), and flees for Paris, where she changes her appearance to go unrecognized and stays with her friend Daisy, who has a restaurant. Soon enough, when Daisy is in a bind, Mia is even helping out as a waitress there.
       Good friends of Paul's from San Francisco, Arthur and Lauren, come to visit Paul. They were the ones who helped get his first manuscript published, giving him the necessary push to becoming a writer. Seeing now that he could use some companionship they decide he needs another push. They put his profile up on a dating site, and set up a rendezvous with Mia -- who is also thinking about giving online dating a try --, though without telling Paul what they're getting him into.
       It doesn't look like love at first sight, but Paul and Mia hit it off after a fashion and try to be 'just friends'. They could both use one -- though of course their friends quickly see that there's more to this relationship than they're willing to admit.
       Conveniently, Paul isn't much of a moviegoer, and Mia's disguise is fooling most of Paris, too, so she can pretend to be just a commoner instead of world-famous. And even when he first figures out that she isn't exactly who she claimed to be, Paul gets it wrong; it's a while before he learns who she really is. Meanwhile, Paul's fame is considerably more limited -- but Mia is curious, and does pick up a few of his books.
       Levy has some fun with the writer-character: much more successful than Paul, there are similarities between author and protagonist: both are writers living abroad (Frenchman Levy lives in the United States) and not nearly as successful in their adopted homelands, and both apparently aren't taken quite so seriously as writers. Amusingly, when Mia goes to buy some of Paul's books the bookseller has other ideas:
     "I could recommend some other authors if you are an avid reader."
     "Why ? Is this author not for avid readers ?"
     "Well, I guess I could recommend more ... literary works, shall we say."
       (Even in apologizing, the bookseller is nicely presented as condescending: "I didn't meant to be disparaging. He's an American author. Often books can lose a lot in translation.")
       Even Paul is realistic about his talents (though Mia likes what she reads):
     "If I were going to read one of your books, which one would you recommend ?"
     "I'd recommend one by another author."
       But apparently he struck a chord somewhere: a book that only sold 750 copies in France ("that too is, of course, in its own way completely spectacular", his editor dryly encouragingly notes ...) has, for some reason, sold 300,000 in South Korea. Paul's sometime lover and Korean translator Kyong sure as hell seems to know what she is doing in bringing out whatever it is that appeals to the local audience in Paul's writing .....
       It's this success that also leads to Paul being invited to the Seoul Book Fair. Despite his terrible fear of flying, he eventually convinces himself to go -- in no small part because he wants to see whether he and Kyong can make something more of their relationship.
       It's here things go (too far) off the rails. Mia is still reconsidering her relationship with her husband -- and has a film to promote -- but bails and, at the last second, hops on Paul's flight to South Korea. In keeping with the theme of not presenting oneself honestly she pretends to be his assistant -- making for some awkwardness, but also giving Paul and Mia the possibility of getting closer.
       Paul is one character who doesn't -- or tries not too - deceive about who he is, but repeatedly finds himself misrepresented, from his first date with Mia (which he was told was a business meeting) to, as it turns out, his core identity as author in South Korea, as he comes to (very slowly) realize when he's on live TV. As to Kyong -- well, it turns out (of course) that that is not the name of his Korean translator .....
       Paul and Mia are surely destined to be together, but ... not so fast ..... Just to add a bit more drama, Mia flees -- indeed, disappears. But at least Paul has something to keep him occupied with in her absence -- involving yet another (well-meaning, but still ...) fraud.
       The unlikelihood of many of the final circumstances -- notably the Korean success of the books --, possible only through a staggeringly willful ignorance (much like Paul not recognizing movie-star Mia for who she really is) is ultimately just silly, as is then the inevitable grand finale.
       Levy juggles a lot in the book reasonably well, even if it's almost caricature -- notably the roles of the friends, Paul's, who set him up, and Daisy for Mia. But then this is a novel featuring an actual caricaturist -- who gives Mia a portrait of Daisy to pass on to her, and which she annoyingly takes forever to remember to give her, another simmering affair that Levy could have probably heated up a bit more vigorously. But given its two utterly self-absorbed protagonists -- at times almost functioning only because they are prodded on by a helpful supporting staff of devoted friends (and an editor) who nudge and push and arrange -- almost no one else counts in this universe.
       There's an easy-going charm to some of Levy's writing, and even if it's all a bit simplistic and silly, much of P.S. from Paris is agreeable lite reading. It's when he gets too ambitious with his plotting that things fall apart -- compounded here by the fact that almost everything in this story relies on lies, deception, fakery, and going behind people's back. From Mia disguising who she actually is -- a pretty fundamental deceit -- to how Paul's first book got published and how Paul and Mia get set up, almost no one is honestly upfront, preferring to manipulate. That it's (almost) all well-meaning isn't much help -- and the book ends on something of a sour note in compromising even Paul, the one character who had been largely honest throughout (Mia gushes -- and is drawn to the fact that --: "you're so utterly incapable of pretending"), but then perpetrates his own large-scale (even prize-winning !) fraud.
       In focusing so on the set-up -- and the convoluted paths the story takes, with Paul and Mia both with a lot (including a lot of other people) on their minds -- P.S. from Paris is also surprisingly weak on the love-leads. They're reasonably interesting characters on their own, and in the situations they are thrown in together, but the sparks between them don't ring particularly true; there's certainly no convincing suggestion as to why they are meant to be together. One can readily root for them in the early stages, as things develop (and there's still room for character-development), but as things proceed the inevitable conclusion feels less and less compelling.
       Levy has a decent easy-going touch in much of the novel, but P.S. from Paris definitely fizzles in its (far) over-the-top denouement and its ultimately lackluster stars.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 September 2017

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P.S. from Paris: Reviews: Marc Levy: Other books by Marc Levy under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Bestselling French author Marc Levy was born in 1961.

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© 2017-2021 the complete review

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