The Siren of Paris is set in France during World War II and centers on Marc Tolbert, an American born in France who travels to Paris after a failed romance to study art and to paint. David LeRoy quickly introduces readers to a cast of characters, some well known historical figures, who will be followed over the course of the novel, including Marie, the art school model who embarks on a romantic relationship with Marc.
Shortly upon his arrival, Marc finds work in the office of the American ambassador to France, William Bullitt, and even accompanies a diplomat to meetings with Hitler and his minions. It isn’t long before the German bombs begin falling, and thousands of people scramble to leave the country. With a Nazi invasion imminent, Marc decides to flee the country, but he ends up on the doomed RMS Lancastria. His experiences on the destroyed ship cause him to abandon any plans for escape, and the haunted Marc returns to Paris and does his part for the Resistance. Little does he know that more horrors await him at the hands of the Nazis.
I must admit that The Siren of Paris was a difficult book for me to finish, and if I had brought another book with me on my work commute, I probably would have abandoned it. It is a self-published novel that could have used some polishing. Lest you think I am an overly picky reader, two of the best books I read this year — Shadows Walking by Douglas R. Skopp and Across the Mekong River by Elaine Russell — are self-published.
The narrative is mostly telling instead of showing, and there is no transition between scenes. It becomes confusing, for instance, when Marc is in art class in one paragraph and suddenly at an embassy party in the next. There also is too much dialogue in some scenes and not enough character development. Many of the decisions Marc makes over the course of the novel are related to his love for Marie, and Marie plays a pivotal role in the latter half of the book, but because readers never really get to know her (or most of the other characters), it’s hard to buy the events that transpire.
The framing chapters at the beginning and the end, set at Marc’s graveside in 1967, are confusing and unnecessary. I understand that LeRoy wanted to inject some sort of spirituality into the novel to highlight Marc’s inner turmoil, but it just seemed bizarre and distracted from the historical storyline. Moreover, the scenes in the concentration camp go a little overboard with the visions Marc has as he withdraws from reality. I also had a hard time following the story after the sinking of the Lancastria because the narrative would shift between 1940 and 1945 every couple of pages, whereas previously, the story was told chronologically.
However, there were a few good things about The Siren of Paris. It’s a fast-paced, plot-driven novel that has an interesting story to tell. LeRoy does a great job showing the tension and fear in the city as people try to flee before the Nazis invade, the helplessness of those without the resources to leave, and the horror as the German planes bomb the ships and trains and even fire upon innocent civilians. It just didn’t work for me, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. The book does have some exciting scenes and moves very quickly, so it might be worth giving a try if you’re a fan of historical fiction set during World War II.
Disclosure: I received The Siren of Paris from Promo 101 for review.
© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.