Book Review | 13 Rue Therese
Title: 13, rue Thérèse: A Novel
Author: Elena Mauli Shapiro
When American translator Trevor Stratton arrives in Paris, his secretary Josianne leaves him with a box of mysterious mementos that belonged to Louise Brunet. Trevor becomes obsessed with the objects of this French woman, reading through her private love letters and pondering over her rosaries, coins, and church gloves that are all that remain of her. Through her belongings, Trevor learns the history of this woman, who experienced love and loss during World War I and World War II.
Louise Brunet, the subject of 13 rue Thérèse, was a real person. The author, Elena Mauli Shapiro, is a French woman who is originally from Paris and lived in the same building Brunet once lived. After Brunet died, her belongings remained for decades in that building and finally found their way to Shapiro. She had always wanted to write about Brunet and the belongings she left behind, and 13 rue Thérèse is her tribute to this woman.
13 rue Thérèse will appeal to readers who love history and maybe even archaeology. What do our possessions say about the people that we are? What kind of “story” would someone dream up about me if they discovered my jewelry, some of my books, a few articles of my clothes, and a pair of unused baby shoes if that is all that is left of me after I’m gone?
I did not like the way that Brunet was portrayed. She comes across as sex-starved and dishonest (she has an affair with a married man who lives in 13 rue Thérèse and doesn’t return lost money to the person who lost it, a small girl), and I just couldn’t figure her out. She loves her husband, yet she cheats on him. And she still yearns for the love of her life, a cousin of hers that her father wouldn’t allow her to marry. Near the end, we also learn some startling revelations about the nature of her relationship with her father, and I couldn’t help but squirm as I read these passages.
The style this book is written in is really confusing. The narrator shifts, and I had a hard time following who was telling the story. We are also rotated between the past and the present, and eventually this all becomes blurred. Even more of this fictitious history is given in footnotes that distract more than add to the overall story. I’d seriously suggest reading this book in one sitting, if possible, and making some notes while you read. I sure wish I had done this, but I spread it out across a week and probably missed out on a lot of things I should have picked up on.
Once I shut the book for the last time, I was thoroughly lost. What had just happened? And how did I miss so much? Was it just not well-written, or did the book just not hold my attention as well as I thought? I will say that I enjoyed Shapiro’s lovely prose, and I am interested enough in the artifacts of Brunet’s that I will be checking out the interactive website for more information.