by TREMAIN, Rose
Lewis Little is less than thrilled when his summer plans change. Instead of staying in England as usual, he and his translator mum are off to Paris, where she has to do a rush job for an author of trashy medieval romances. At 13, the young hero of The Way I Found Her is already full of promise and notions, including the Exploding Peanut Theory of Beauty: "Beauty causes alteration. I'm talking about the beauty of women. Alteration may frequently result in some accident or other." His theory is to prove surprisingly prophetic. But though he thinks his mother's looks may well cause a life-or-death situation, her employer, Valentina Gavrilovich, is equally glam.
Despite his initial misgivings about Paris, Lewis is soon right at home--or as at home as he can be in a huge apartment filled with strange noises coming from supposedly uninhabited rooms. Almost instantly obsessed with Valentina as well as alive to the demands and deep pleasures of language, domestic and foreign, he decides to follow in his mother's footsteps and translate Alain-Fournier's novel of lost happiness, Le Grand Meaulnes. Valentina herself has some cogent things to say about the selfish arts of writing and reading, including, "When you begin a book and you already know in the first line that everything is in the past, this makes you worry so for the character." (A quick return to the opening of The Way I Found Her reveals the phrase, "I don't want to talk about the present.")
As the adults around him carry on with their jobs, romances, and intrigues, Lewis becomes increasingly cynical, particularly when it comes to his mother. As he tells himself, "Parents think they can time everything to suit themselves: they just don't see what they might be burdening you with." His mother's actions, however, become almost as nothing when Valentina suddenly disappears. At this point, The Way I Found Her turns into a curious hybrid--both a coming-of-age story and a thriller--and perhaps Tremain's strengths lie more with the former. Still, this book is an edgy exploration of responsibility, attraction, and betrayal. It is equally a loving evocation of literature's power. Lewis's takes on Le Grand Meaulnes and Crime and Punishment should send many in their direction; many others will turn to Tremain's odd and accomplished Sacred Country and Restoration.
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