#226 The House in Paris

Blindly adhering to one (very long) list of books does guarantee something from every book I read: not necessarily a guarantee that the book will be good or that I will enjoy it, sometimes simply that it’s well regarded, that it might be useful to relate to future reads or that (if the opportunity should ever arise) I could mention it in a conservation to good effect. Knowing that each book on the list will in some way benefit me, as ridiculous as the whole thing is, is vaguely reassuring and while I approach some books of which I have a previous awareness with “excitement” and others with relative indifference, I at least begin all of them with the satisfaction of knowing that when I’ve finished I’ll be able to tick another one off (and have one less to read).
When I began the House in Paris it was with a sort of indifference: I had been hovering around the “B” section of the library and spotted a number of titles by Elizabeth Bowen – sometimes I scroll through the 1001 books list (depending on how good the internet signal is in whichever library I’m in – if the signal is bad it can be extremely frustrating) and pick out authors I’ve heard of or books whose titles I like (I will read them all eventually, after all !); and sometimes I look around the shelves and use familiarly reliable publishers as a guide as to what I might find on the list – but it is often difficult to look through and find a novel since the site I have saved on my phone has them sorted by date of publication, rather than alphabetically, so I have to use other books (normally ones I’ve studied) as benchmarks to try and identify where one I’ve picked up off the shelf might sit in the (very large) selection. The House in Paris was (happily) easy enough to locate on the list, and it itself begins pleasantly enough (“pleasant” meaning relatively inoffensively – not gripping but not boring). At first I did wonder if it was going to turn into something like the Turn of the Screw – Leopold does seem a bit demonic – but there was nothing especially exciting about it; actually I found myself wondering why exactly it had been chosen to feature on the list, what with all the other great books out there that have been omitted (which I’ve seen much lamented on “comments” sections of online versions of the 1001 books. But at least it wasn’t boring.
I don’t know whether I misread the blurb but I was under the impression that the whole book would be about Henrietta and Leopold (on some sort of weird adventure ? Would he go and stay with her grandmother too ?) so I was surprised when it (abruptly) switched to Leopold’s mother then jumped back in time to the events leading up to his conception: which I’ll admit was slightly more appealing than reading about Henrietta and Leopold (although I was starting to look forward to Henrietta being a bit less uptight and the adventure I’d started to anticipate). When it turned out that Karen had been engaged to someone else (not Max) I think is when the House in Paris started to truly grab my attention – actually I’m quite annoyed that it took me so long to get through it because after that I was really intrigued to see how things would play out. If I were to plot my enjoyment of the novel on a graph it would peak around page 70 and stay high for another 70 pages and then gradually recede and plateau back at the “not bored but not thrilled” level. On the whole I did enjoy reading it but (maybe because this is the first book I’ve read with the knowledge that I’ll be writing about it soon after) most of the time I was aware of exactly how much I was enjoying it, which to be fair to the novel itself was for the most part an above average amount.

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