I was intrigued by my introduction to this novel as a DearReader.com Fiction Book Club selection earlier this year, which prompted me to buy a copy to finish it. I chose it as my pick for my offline Book Club to read for our September meeting, and we just met to discuss the book on Friday night. By consensus, this isn't going to go on record as one of our favorites.
This is by no means a plot-driven book, so let's call this a synopsis of the premise:
Ellen Baxter is a lost woman. Raised by a widowed former Miss Alabama who believed that physical beauty is the only important quality a woman can possess, and if she can't use that quality to find a keep a man, she's no one, Ellen married older, widowed physicist Lawrence Baxter when she was barely out of college. Now, at thirty-six, she seems to have no identity other than that of "the lovely wife" of her Nobel-laureate husband; her stepson is now an adult, and she has no real occupation other than sometime charity work. Ellen and Lawrence are in Paris for a physics conference in late August, 1997, and staying at the Ritz on the weekend that Princess Diana, a guest at the same hotel, dies in a car crash not far away. The accident brings Ellen into contact with a photographer who was at the scene, and prompts a great deal of reflection on her own life and connections to Diana's over a period of a few days.
It's not exactly a character-driven book either. Much of the book is an internal monologue, and it really doesn't lead to much resolution. Stylistically, this appealed to me - it reminded me of my own style of expression at times, with lots of backtracking and tangents - but if you don't much care for Ellen's voice, it could get irksome.
Honestly, the book's not really "driven" by much of anything. Nothing really happens, and there's not much payoff. It's more meditative than anything else, but it doesn't seem that Ellen really grows much from her reflections and actions; she seems to be still in the same place at the end. I feel that a reader who has been through times of psychic crisis, depression, or her own "lost" periods might have more patience and sympathy for Ellen, and this was one of the reasons the book intrigued me, but the lack of any real sense of progress, resolution, or even hope for the character was frustrating. I think it's a book that could spur the reader into some serious reflection on her own life, though, if she's open to it.