Book review: The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

This thriller is multi-layered in more senses than one …

Written almost exclusively in the first person and the present tense, The Paris Apartment is set in an apartment block in Paris. Jess, the principal narrator, needs somewhere to escape to after having problems with her job in the UK. Her brother Ben says she’s welcome to stay with him in Paris, but when she gets to his third floor flat there’s no sign of him. Time passes and Jess grows increasingly suspicious that something awful may have happened. As Lucy Foley‘s novel unfolds and we get insights into the minds of the other residents in the various “layers” of the block, it becomes clear that Jess’s suspicions are well-founded.

Although I really enjoyed this book, and would highly recommend it, I can understand some of the negative criticisms written in the Amazon reviews. Quite a way into it I was finding the slightly staccato, breathless writing style a bit hollow, becoming impatient to know what had been going on in this place. I even considered abandoning it. I’m so glad I didn’t! My impatience was in fact just a sign that the structure of the book was tightening its grip.

There’s more than enough Parisian atmosphere, conveyed via thoughts, conversations and descriptive prose. The real key to the success of the novel lies in the different points-of-view Foley (right) gives us through the first person rendering of the thoughts of the various characters on each of the four above-ground floors of the block and the basement. Yes, there is a certain claustrophobic atmosphere – always a useful device in a thriller – but the action isn’t confined to the apartments.

Frankly, there is a kind of ‘dance of the seven veils‘ before we get an explanation for all the enigmatic activities and attitudes of the other residents, until the driving force of the plot explodes like a Big Bang with a specific revelation. Suddenly, my patience was rewarded, with a substantial portion of the book still to be read. After that, pages started turning at a much more rapid rate! Once the secrets begin to tumble out into the light of day, it is un-put-downable. We begin to piece together what might have happened and feel that we’re making progress all the time, only to find that a new viewpoint yet again pushes us towards another theory.

To be able to produce such twists and turns is a magical art. So take care – and don’t make too many assumptions about what happened in that Paris apartment …

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