The Cult of Nostalgia is the story of Carly, her Uncle Edward, and Edward’s time in 1920s Paris hanging out with literary giants. In San Francisco in 2003, Carly thinks her boyfriend, Simon, is about to propose when she sees him marry a member of the Morningside cult. She discovers they’ve stolen her great-uncle Edward’s diary and short stories and taken them to Paris, so she follows them with Simon’s brother Josh to ‘deprogram’ him and get him back. In 1963, Edward reluctantly goes back to Paris to write a memoir of his first visit, when he briefly became a socialpart of the literary elite in 1925 with Hemmingway, Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein.
If I hadn’t been reviewing this one, I probably would have given up after the first section (roughly 100 pages). I found the first part fairly overwritten – a lot of unnecessary repetition and quite a few chapters that should have ended a few paragraphs before they did. It just wasn’t for me. But from the second section onwards, when all the characters were in Paris, I clicked with it more. The plot got moving and there was a little less of the over-exposition.
I preferred both of Edward’s time strands (1963 and 1925), as I found what he’s looking for, lost, and found to be more subtly told. I actually think I would have preferred the book with just these parts and without Carly’s 2003. I haven’t read Hemingway’s memoir, but I might after this. I really enjoyed reading about that group of writers, all supportive and competitive, with complex relationships and so much unsaid.
The book is partly about the difference between the idea of Paris and Paris as a place – how those romantic notions of what it can do for a person match up to the reality. In fact, Carly and Edward find Paris embodies both the idea and the place, though at the same time ‘it could have been anywhere. It just happened to be Paris’ (and, in an act of doublethink, it could only have been Paris). I’ve never been, but there definitely is something about the ‘idea’ of Paris. My daydreams of running away to live in Paris on red wine, cheese and pastry generally ignore the fact I can’t speak French and would double in size in about a week. But still, the ‘idea’ of it…
I’m not sure I’d recommend this one, there are probably better books about Paris and the writers of Shakespeare and Company, but it’s a deceptively quick, easy read, and the Paris of ’25 and ’63 sections are intriguing. If this book sounds like something you fancy, just remember you have to get through the ropier first 100 pages, and then start giving it a proper go to see if it’s for you. A slow burner with a good middle.
I kindly received a free review copy from The Cutting Edge Press in exchange for an honest review.