Abi's Reviews > Burning Paris

Burning Paris by Nicholas Blincoe
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's review
Apr 24, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: 21st-century, france, history, england

Hum. It was OK. I've studied the Paris Commune of 1871 and I know what an exciting, dark and passionate story this could have been, but somehow Blincoe just never really made it come alive. I also think that if I had not studied the Paris Commune I might well have been lost at times - Blincoe's depiction of what was actually going on was sketchy. I appreciate that perhaps he was trying to show the confusion of the time but, apart from a sense that there might not be enough milk and it's a bit cold, I would not understand at all from this novel why the Commune sparked. The narrative appears detached from the subject. The Debacle by Zola, which is admittedly not one of his best, does a much better job of capturing the tensions and the fervour, the swooping despair and euphoria. Blincoe's narrative, in comparison, to me felt detached and superficial. Or maybe I've been conditioned to interpret the Commune in a 'Zolaesque' way and it really was quite a sterile process. Only a few of the Communards appear, it is uncertain why they are fighting, what the Prussians are doing, what the Versaillais are doing... actually the more I think about what he left out the more inadequate I believe this novel is. I know you can't include everything, but Blincoe is so sparing with what he tells you about the actual events of the siege and Commune as to be obscure.
As far as the actual writing goes, the prose was a little... flat. I can't think of another way to put it - it was perfectly competent but wholly underwhelming. The novel was caught awkwardly between trying to be a war story and a love story, and didn't really manage to be either with any success. I did not engage with the characters on a very deep level, and I was not moved. I was not frightened, excited, saddened, amused, curious, or anything (apart from the elephant killing scene - that was the best bit in the whole thing). I am forced to conclude that Blincoe's writing simply does not connect with me.
I think I see what he was trying to do with the split narrative thing, and the comments he was trying to make about interpreting and imagining history, and he definitely wasn't completely unsuccessful. There are some little flourishes of detail that are really quite clever (the connections between the characters in the past and the present strands) and I get the sense that Blincoe is somewhat under-achieving with this novel. It feels like Burning Paris had a lot of potential, but sorry, could do better.

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