A book review usually tells the reader what a book is about. In the case of Paris Bride, however, that would not be in the spirit of what the author has created. So this review will tell you what Paris Bride is not.
To begin with, it isn't a novel, although it undoubtedly is a fiction. Nor is it a biography or a memoir. How could it be? The main subject of the narrative, we are told, disappeared in 1925. That is, of course, assuming she ever existed at all. So what remains is a speculative memoir. The story of what Marie Wheeler / Schad's life might have been after she divorced and returned to Paris. The possible life of a possible person.
Without authentic documentation, John Schad constructs this history from other stories. From other Maries that found their way into poetry and literature. From the efforts of artists and writers to identify what truth looks like. Consequently, as the readers, we embark on a tour of decades of modernist writings that were buffeted by wars, suppressed by the whims of dictators and then finally interrogated by know-it-all critics and linguists. Suddenly we find ourselves in the company of an array of authors and we watch as these gifted surrogates piece together elements of what Marie Schad could have been, what life is. It's a fascinating, almost mesmerising feat of invention. A virtuoso conjuring trick.
That it comes with all the accoutrements of a non-fiction book – bibliography, textual endnotes, a postcript and an afterword - only adds to the sense of wonderment at what has been fabricated.
In the end we have the words of the author himself. The theme of Paris Bride is negation: we need to seek the 'nothing' of things, to see things as they really are not.
On reflection, what we have is, perhaps, the annotated life story of modernism itself.
Peter Flack is a former teacher and the chair of Leicester's Everybody's Reading Festival. He was co-founder of the 'Whatever it Takes' project set up to promote reading and literacy in Primary schools.
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