Saturday, May 19, 2018

Book Review: "Paris Trance" by Geoff Dyer

"People talk about love at first sight, about the way that men and women fall for each other immediately, but there is also such a thing as friendship at first sight."

Luke is an Englishman in his mid-20s who decides to move to Paris in order to write a book. But when he arrives, he quickly realizes the city, and his life there, aren't what he imagined.

He's renting a decrepit apartment in the wrong neighborhood, he barely speaks or understands French, and he can't seem to meet anyone, especially a woman, no matter how hard he tries. He's considering moving back to England but knows that would be admitting failure and taking a step backward.

Then he meets Alex when he begins work at the same warehouse. Alex is a fellow English expatriate, and the two quickly find the rhythm of an intense friendship. With Alex in his life, things begin picking up for Luke—he finds a better apartment, and he begins playing soccer with his other colleagues. These victories bring his bravado back, and it's not long before he meets Nicole, a beautiful Serbian woman, with whom he falls completely in love.

"Even when we recall with photographic exactness the way in which someone first presented themselves to us, that likeness is touched by every trace of emotion we have felt up to—and including—the moment when we are recalling the scene."

As Luke and Nicole's relationship intensifies, Alex meets Sahra, a brilliant interpreter, and the two couples become inseparable, sharing meals, drinks, countless films, activities, travel—even the occasional drugs. Nicole and Luke's relationship is the more passionate and mercurial one, buoyed by wild sex, periodic arguments, and Luke's unending desire for fulfillment. Alex and Sahra are more stable—while their relationship might not reach the same levels of passion, their love is a steady one, which seems key to its future.

Paris Trance follows the four through more than a year of their relationships, the ups and the downs, and how the differences between the two couples—and the two men—become more evident as time carries on. The book also gives a glimpse into the future, and what happens to each of the couples, how some can change with the curves that life throws at you while some cannot.

This story is a beautifully compelling look at friendship and love, how some can enjoy the present while preparing for the future while others can only focus on what is in front of them. The book conveys the flush of relationships, the bonds of friendship, the insecurity of love so well, and captures both the tumultuous moments and the quiet ones. The banter between Luke and Alex, and at times, the four of them, is really enjoyable.

I really enjoyed this book, although I definitely enjoyed Alex and Sahra's characters more than Luke and Nicole's. The story has a poignancy at times, while other times it moves with a frenzy. The one thing I didn't quite understand is the periodic shifts in narration between first and third person. There is also some graphic, borderline kinky sex in the book which some may find awkward or unnecessary.

While elements of the plot of Paris Trance may seem familiar, in Geoff Dyer's hands the book feels unique. The book may not be perfect, but I'll remember it for a long while as a book that touched my emotions.

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