It was actually the beautiful cover that tempted me and its ambiguous title. My instincts made me think it could be a murder mystery or a slow burning romance. Instead, I read a book that transported me to a Paris I have never known. We all know Paris as the city of lights, stunning and full of culture. Cooper instead, concentrates an a side of Paris that we often forget ever existed. The story concentrates on the dwellers of Number 37, vastly different people co-habiting one apartment block whose lives contrast shockingly. Our main character, Edward, is reeling from a traumatic incident and filled with grief has runaway from his home in England to stay with the mysterious and glamorous aunt of his school friend. The odd pair connect over their shared feelings of loss and loneliness.
There is a wonderful presentation of how romantics feelings are not always based on the physical attraction between two people but how they connect to each other as people. Though I’ve described Edward as the main character, because we start and end the story with him, Cooper jumps beautifully across the perspectives of multiple characters, all living varying lifestyles and all dealing with their own difficulties. Racism is a strong theme in this novel and Cooper faces it with unapologetic honesty as she does with many of the other key issues. So, instead of a fanciful love story of two young romantics dancing with the Eiffel Tower decorating the back drop, it’s a look into real human emotions and the problems many people face daily.
What I most enjoyed about this story is that there is no real end to the novel, which I think is completely intentional. Edward simply goes back to England to face his grieving family. The plot wordlessly continues, there are small resolutions but there is no huge relief in the final chapter. It doesn’t end happily ever after but it does end on a promise that things will eventually get better for all of the characters. It was a very interesting read that seemed to breakaway from the typical structure we expect novels to follow.