Stories about people in apartment buildings are a bit like stories about groups of school mates for me – you invariably have a mixed bunch of characters who are tied together because they have one (physical) thing in a common – a building. I generally quite like these stories, which is why I picked up Fran Cooper’s These Dividing Walls (the very pretty cover also swayed me).
These Dividing Walls is about a particular apartment building in Paris. It’s described beautifully, just as I imagine the quintessential apartment building in Paris to be – a courtyard, heavy wooden doors, flower boxes, winding staircases, a garret room at the top and, the pièce de résistance, a bookshop at the bottom.
There’s a mix of characters, dominated by Frédérique, the book shop owner, and Edward, a visiting Brit, in Paris to grieve the sudden death of his sister.
Thankfully Cooper avoids a stereotypical cast and her descriptions of the apartment block residents are playful and intriguing. However, afforded the opportunity to assemble an unlikely group of characters, Cooper takes it one step further and throws in some unlikely plot twists. When you’re building a story around characters whose lives would not ordinarily cross paths, I think their interactions must be believable. And it’s enough for the plot to be dominated by these interactions. Unfortunately, in These Dividing Walls, the interactions felt contrived, the characters built around pushing a certain (political) agenda and there were too many parallel story-lines that had to be hastily resolved at the end.
There are some lovely passages in this book – an awkward one-night stand described as “…a night where the only bits that bumped were the bits you didn’t want to – a long percussion of teeth and noses” and some sensitive thoughts on grieving – “…everything that had suffocated her before in its intensity turned now a cushion against pain; scar tissue around her heart” but these sat alongside the ‘action’, upsetting the pace.
2/5 Not for me but don’t let that stop you.
I received my copy of These Dividing Walls from the publisher, Hachette Australia, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
“…watched him slice potatoes as thin as pennies, frying them to a golden crisp… She’d cut herbs from the window box to sprinkle on the potatoes…”
I have read so many reviews lately where the premise for the story sounds so good then the reality just doesn’t make it. Too bad as I loved the sound of this. Where is the editing in so many modern novels?
I’m not sure I want to read this, but I have Life A Users Manual on the bedside table which has a similar premise and which I’ve heard great things about. I really like the idea of an apartment block full of stories – maybe because that’s where I live, although sadly not in Paris…
Oh dear – I had high hopes for this one, partly because of the wonderful Life A User’s Manual. It’s a great structure for a novel but it sounds as if the pudding has been over-egged here.
Have you ever read The Yacubian Building? That’s a brilliant novel about the residents of an apartment block in Cairo and well worth reading. It was turned into a heart rending film, too.