I’m seventy-five pages into my review copy of Francine Prose’s new book Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 and I’m just not sure what to make of it. It is one of those novels told in multiple voices with sometimes very distant perspectives to the main course of the plot. Most of the telling happens through documents — letters, chapters from a biography, newspaper stories, chapters from a memoir of some kind — but sometimes there is a chapter of regular narrative storytelling. This sort of approach I generally have no issues with, I often like the variety of perspective such a style has to offer. But this time I am struggling with it.
My struggles aren’t because I am having trouble following along or keeping things straight. My struggle comes from how contrived and same-y it feels. Prose can’t seem to find different voices for the different perspectives so they all come across as too much alike. And the letters, ugh! The letters are being written by only one character to his parents, a young man from Hungary who has gone to Paris to try and make his name as a photographer. This is 1924 and the guy is writing stuff to his parents that I wouldn’t write to mine in 2014! Plus the style in which he writes is not a correspondence style, or rather, each letter begins that way but as soon as he starts telling his parents what he has been up to it turns into a regular prose narrative with dialogue conversations that end with a plea for money and a sign off from the loving son. In addition, there are so many different narratives it is getting a bit cacophonous.
And now I find myself wondering if I should even keep reading. The story isn’t bad but it hasn’t grabbed me either. It is all just so-so. I am on the fence over whether I should give it another twenty pages or if I should call it quits because so-so isn’t good enough at the moment and King Lear is taunting me because I know I will love it since it is a reread that I loved the first time around. It is easy to give up on bad books or good books I am definitely not getting along with, but giving up on so-so books is harder because there is still the hope that maybe it will get better in ten more pages. But that can end up being a trap when after ten pages it still isn’t getting better but maybe in ten more. See me talking myself into making this book a DNF? The fence is starting to wobble.