Picture the archetypal romantic proposal: Paris, the Eiffel Tower, two young beautiful people in love and a glamorous ring to boot. This is the opening scene of Cathy Kelly’s latest novel It Started with Paris, a book that presents this traditional version of romance as a backdrop to the exploration of the good, the bad and the ugly of romance.
Cathy Kelly is an acclaimed Irish writer, whose trademark witty analyses of women’s lives has earned her recognition not just in Ireland, but throughout the UK (where she has outsold publishing sensations J.K. Rowling and Dan Brown) as well as Australia and New Zealand. In this new novel, Kelly returns to the theme of looking at the continuum of relationships, and how women tackle issues like death, divorce, and motherhood.
The proposal at the top of the Eiffel Tower sets in motion a range of developments among the extended families and friends of the happy couple – just as one couple is celebrating the start of a new life together, the other characters in the novel encounter break ups and heartbreak. The novel revolves around a trio of childhood friends, the newly engaged Kathy, Leila and Leila’s sister Susie. Kathy is one half of the happy newly engaged couple, while Leila, a successful career woman, is in the depths of a recent divorce, and Susie struggles with the stressful isolation of being a solo parent and feeling estranged from her seemingly glamorous sister. When Leila and Susie’s mother is involved in a car accident, Leila finds herself interrupting her busy urban life to return to her childhood village, which means swapping minding famous movie stars for minding her mother’s wayward dog.
Although the novel is written in a light hearted manner, there are some definite serious undertones throughout the narrative, like the story of Vonnie, a young widow who is trying to make a new life for herself and her son; or Jennifer, who cannot let go of the hurt and anger over her separation from her husband , and whose eldest daughter tragically acts out the pain that is felt by everyone in the family .
The theme of motherhood is obviously of great interest to the author, who has created mothers across generations in this novel – there are the older mothers, whose children are grown up and leading their own lives, mothers who are struggling with their young children, and mothers who are just starting the journey of motherhood. While there are some clearly discernible messages throughout the novel, Kelly is not one to hit you over the head with a sledgehammer, instead they are subtly interwoven within the narrative, leaving the reader with a sense of having received some kind and gentle advice from a friend – advice on self-responsibility, courage and hope. And while Kelly may say she is not a romantic, she nevertheless manages to create some very romantic and hopeful moments in this novel.
It Started with Paris is entertaining, funny, and sometimes poignant. With summer making its way to our doorstep, this novel might just be the perfect read for those long lazy holiday afternoons.