Destinations: New York City, Montreal and Berlin (with a bit of Paris)
Here is Publisher’s Weekly review of Marc Levy’s first novel, If Only It Were True, (YA (Young Adult). The movie, called Just Like Heaven, starred Reese Witherspoon. Here’s part of the book review of Levy’s first book:
This is the book, by a French architect based in San Francisco, that made a huge Hollywood deal, and then a seven-figure sale to Pocket Books. It’s an interesting study in the difference between a movie concept and a novel. One can imagine it as an offbeat romantic comedy on the screen, with charismatic actors and some nifty special effects, but as a book it’s slight and one-dimensional–and it doesn’t help that Levy has no ear whatsoever for American speech patterns.
Ouch! Since his first novel, Levy has moved to New York City, written 11 books that are best sellers in France, (they claim he is the most-read French author in the world) and only now is finally debuting a new book in the United States. If you look at the review on Good Reads, you will find his French-language books generally rated 4 (out of 5 stars) with rave reviews in many languages. Maybe they are buying the book for the author’s picture.
However for me, I have to reluctantly say, nothing much has changed since that first Publisher’s Weekly review. All Those Things We Never Said is once more about an almost-dead person coming to life. The plot is still all far-fetched froth. His characters are Americans and the dialogue is still clunky. BTW, according to a favorable interview article in the Wall Street Journal, Levy’s novels are “dismissed by the French literary establishment as romans de plage (novels for the beach).”
Julia, a graphic artist who creates children’s story characters, is about to be married when she gets word that her estranged father has died. Her best friend Stanley, who is helping her find a wedding dress when she gets the news, says, “I have to give it to him…his excuse is irreproachable.” In case the bitchiness didn’t give him away, Stanley is totally, stereotypically gay.
Returning from her father’s funeral (which replaced her wedding) Julia discovers a crate in her living room that contains–Anthony Walsh, her father. He explains that what she is seeing is a live-action version, complete with the real man’s memories, power of speech, etc., but his battery life will only last six days. He hopes that will be long enough for the father and daughter to say all the things they have never said to each other.
This could be interesting. Who has not thought of someone who died and thought, “I wish I had said….” or “I wish I had asked….” However the possibility of a healing conversation beyond the grave gets waylaid. They continually slide into a pattern of bickering– authoritarian father vs. rebellious daughter.
Meanwhile, father persuades Julia to fly to Montreal for a getaway. And then to Berlin to search for Thomas, the love he forced her to leave when she was a young art student. This is where it gets interesting for the traveling reader. Levy does better with places than with people, in my opinion. I like his development of New York, Montreal and the way he turns Berlin into the world’s most romantic city. He captures details that are the little clues travelers pick up that let them known they’ve left home. It came as a relief to read reliably true passages in the midst of a disappointingly flimsy plot.
Unfortunately, descriptions of locale must give way to the awkward flashbacks in Julia’s memory and to the mostly silly dialogue. Instead of thought-provoking moments, we get a collection of fortune cookies from her father.
“Princess, the important thing isn’t knowing what city or corner of the world the other person is in, but whether or not you truly love them. Mistakes don’t count. There’s only the life we live.”
It all seems rather deflating. Levy has a great idea–what would happen if you had the chance to spend one more week with a loved one after you thought they were gone? But there is no pay-off. However, Anthony cared enough about finding Thomas to hire a detective named Pilquez to help with the search.
So why am I writing this review? Because some travelers who read are looking for a roman de plage or perhaps a roman d’avion.
I did like Stanley. And I’d like to see HIS review of this novel.
Note: The publishers provided a copy of the book for review, which quite obviously did not buy a favorable opinion. This article includes links to affiliate site, Amazon, which makes your shopping more convenient, and helps support A Traveler’s Library.