Sunday, April 15, 2018

Paris, A Love Story: a Memoir by Kati Marton

I probably should not write negative reviews but this book did leave an impression on me so I cannot say that did not have its merit.  In the past I have mostly only read books where I knew I would agree with the authors world view.  I think this is narrow of me so I decided to read a book by someone I would not normally care for.  Here is the result.  Hopefully the cheerful sounds of Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik will smooth over any dissonance one may experience when reading my review.

Paris: A Love StoryParis: A Love Story by Kati Marton

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book was interesting in certain respects. It gave me an insight into the life and culture of people who run with the big dogs. Kati Marton is a writer and journalist who was married for several years to Peter Jennings. She met him as she was an up and coming news reporter. After their divorce, she married Richard Holbrook, an American diplomat.

One would hope that getting a book titled "Paris: a love Story" the story would be largely about, uh, well, Paris for one thing and love for another. This book is about neither. What it is about is one woman's relentless ambition to be a Very Important Person. The entire story is fueled by ego.

We first hear about her last moments with her husband Richard shortly before he dies. She chooses to write this in present tense, perhaps to give it an existentialistic flavor. It worked for Jean-Dominique Bauby in his memoir "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", which he wrote to a scribe by blinking one eye, the only part of his body he could move after a stroke. It does not work for most writers and it does not work for Marton.

They are in Paris, true, and she writes about living in Paris as young woman studying there after escaping Eastern Europe with her family. She faintly describes her surroundings, some student revolts, but I have been numerous times to Paris. She does not paint Paris; not the Paris I know.

Marton describes her rise in her career where she rather glibly mentions an abortion she had because "it just wasn't the right time"; her career, you know...

She then proceeds to inform everyone of just what a horrible person Peter Jennings was. They had two children (after the first one) and she tried to be a good mother, but Jennings seemed to think she should stay home and raise the children. This seems to be where his horribleness lies, preferring a family life over a career. One wonders what Jennings feelings were about her abortion since it was also his child.

She could not take the lack of support and after an affair with a man who "understood" her, she finally divorced him. Interestingly Jennings did not want a divorce, even after she confessed her infidelity. Her children begged her to stay with their father. She found that hard to take, but not too hard apparently, because after she met Richard Holbrook who "left Diane Sawyer for her" she divorced Jennings and married Holbrook.

We then get a dissertation on how very, very wonderful Richard Holbrook is and also a list of all the famous politicians and celebrities they met at parties (others and their own).

Yet she cheats on Holbrook as well. She feels terrible about it but it was like in the movies. She met a drop dead gorgeous man from Hungary, her home country, and, well, one thing led to another. I'm surprised she didn't write that "it was like it was happening to someone else", a popular movie line.

But you know how wonderful Holbrook is. He did not care and did not even want to know the name of the man and he never asked her any questions about the episode. Ever.

Methinks Ms. Marton is keeping something from the readers,or maybe Holbrook was keeping something from Ms. Marton.

Other than what restaurants they ate at in Paris (and the aforementioned celebrities) we never learn much about who Holbrook was as a man, aside from the subjective terminology that tells us how loving and supportive he is.

In the end we learn very little about the men in Marton's life, her family, her friends are non-existent, unless you count the parties with famous people, but we learn nothing about them either (well, Hillary was a great gal. She cried when she hugged Marton at Holbrook's funeral.).

The people in this book are as thin as its pages. Marton, narcissistic personality aside, is the thinnest of them all.

Now, narcissism does not prevent a book from being good. After all, look at Joan Didion's books about the deaths of her daughter (Blue Nights) and her husband (The Year of Magical Thinking). Didion's writing is extremely self-centered, but it is also poetic, which makes it worth reading even if it is all about herself disguised as grief for her family.

Marton's writing is surprisingly wooden. For someone who has made her living as a journalist, she does not write with much color or flow. Every sentence dead ends and the reader must mentally pick up each successive sentence. It gets tiring. And boring.

Well, the perceptive reader will pick up that I did not really care for this book, but that doesn't mean you should not read it. Especially if you want a career in the media. It will help you realize just how aggressively egotistical you need to be.

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  1. love Mozart: like turning on a light bulb, sometimes... sometimes i fret about not reading books i don't like: should i actually be doing that? he says... maybe i'm just as narcissistic as those i shun. well, i guess i don't worry about it enough to change, as i can't finish books that repel me... usually in the first few pages i can tell if it has any attraction... after all, so many books, so little.... good post: well written and clear... tx...

    1. Thanks, Mudpuddle. I appreciate your comments. I have never bothered with books I knew I would not like, but I have read some good reviews by writers about books that they did not agree with and I thought that maybe I should make myself read books by people who I do not agree with just to gain an insight as to why they think they way they do. But you're right. Life's too short to waste much time on unlikeable books. There are too many good ones out there.

  2. Hi Sharon - I also have been thinking about reading some authors that I disagree with. I also think that it is fine to write a negative review if that is what you think about a book.

    Based upon your comment Kati Marton seems pretty bad and unashamed that she was pretty bad. There are ways that ambition can be applied ethically and without hurting those around you but that does not seem to apply here.

    Have a great week!

    1. Hi Brian. It was interesting to me that Marton lives in such a foreign world as my own. She obviously saw nothing wrong with ruthless ambition. I'm sure she is not alone. That is probably what it takes to attain that level of material success. No thanks.

      Have a great week, too!

  3. This is why I seldom I read books about celebrities. I doubt Peter Jennings thought much of this book either. She obviously had to get all of this off from her chest. I enjoyed your review of this book. I think readers should be honest about books they read whether they enjoyed them or not. Your reasons are well stated. Hope your next book puts you back on the positive side.

    1. Hi T.P. You are smart not to read books about celebrities. I think I have learned my lesson. I have just finished a couple of books I enjoyed very much so my next reviews should be a lot more positive. Hope you have recovered from your travels. I feel jealous. I visited South Africa many years ago and I would like to visit that area again. Take care!

  4. I do agree with you on so many points. I chose the book thinking it would be a love story taking place in the beautiful city of Paris. While the author and her partners are accomplished people, the book appeared to be a lot of bragging about success and parties with famous guests. These seemingly never ending accounts finally bored me to an extent where it was difficult to finish the book. I'm thankful someone else felt the same.

    1. Many people make the mistake of thinking that because they lead interesting lives, that they can tell a good story and it simply isn't true.


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.