Book review: The Strays of Paris by Jane Smiley

I have long been a fan of Jane Smiley. Her work has never failed to captivate me. The versatility and scope of her writing has never failed to surprise me. So when Camilla Elworthy sent me a beautiful copy of Jane’s latest work The Strays of Paris, I was extremely excited.

I have been saving this book for a quiet space, away from online teaching and the slight chaos of home learning. A time to savour what I expected to be a treat.

And in true Jane Smiley fashion I was surprised. This book was not what I was expecting. And it is all the more charming for that. In a time when all norms feel out of our reach, this novel will ask you to suspend your disbelief just one more time, but in the most beautiful way.

Step onto the streets of Paris. You will find yourself in the company of a young runway racehorse called Paras, a sophisticated and street wise dog called Frida and a worldly old Raven called Raoul. They move through the busy streets unseen by most, not because they aren’t real but because most of the cities inhabitants have simply forgotten how to ‘see’.

But there are those who aren’t completely closed off to what might be happening in the city they call home. Jerome, the grocer who serves the dog each day, accepting her presence and never questioning where she might live and who she might belong to. Anais, the baker who feeds the horse in the early mornings, simply marvelling at her grace and beauty. And Pierre, the park keeper who knows the animals are roaming in his park, but merely observes with mild curiosity and wonder.

All these ‘Strays of Paris’ both human and otherwise come together through the story of one small boy. Living with his aged Great Grandmother on the Rue Marinoni, Etienne is the most accepting of all. And it is the relationships that develop in and around this great, dilapidated house that will ultimately save them all.

This book is a gentle tale, a modern fable of what happens when we open our eyes to the unexpected and what might just be hiding in plain sight. Filled with character and humour, joy and sadness this charming tale will take you out of lockdown and far away to the streets of one of the most magical cities in the world. But make sure you look with eyes wide open, because you never know what you might see.

Rachel x

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