Thursday, January 5, 2012

Throwback Thursday: The Ruby Notebook

The Ruby Notebook by Laura Resau 2010
Delacorte Press/Random House

Rating: 5/5

IQ (Zeeta thinking about the Castle of If aka Chateau d’If, located on a small island about a mile away from Marseille) “I wonder about true love, if that’s what J.C. had for my mother, even after one night. I wonder about Vincent and Madame Chevalier, and what their lives would have been like if they’d admitted their love years ago. I wonder about eternal life, if it would get boring, if you’d get sick of yourself and your thoughts and the world…or if things would seem new and different every day. I wonder if living forever would be terribly sad, always loving people, then leaving them behind. I wonder how you’d survive so many losses and still be able to love.” Pg. 233

Zeeta and her mother live in a different country every year, France is 16-year old Zeeta’s 16th country. Previously they lived in Ecuador which is where the first book in this trilogy, The Indigo Notebook is set. Zeeta’s mother loves living near water because she believes it calms her and can have healing powers so they settle in Aix-en-Provence, a city full of fountains, charm and mystery. Zetta soon befriends some traveling street performers and even develops a crush on one, Jean Claude. Unfortunately (or fortunately) Zetta’s boyfriend Wendell will be living in Aix-en-Provence for a summer art program, Zetta is torn over how she feels about Wendell and Jean Claude. She is also troubled by the mysteries anonymous notes and gifts she has been receiving, she calls this admirer her fantome (ghost). Wendell agrees to help her find out who her fantome is and to find a mysterious underground spring whose water is rumored to bring immortality. Zeeta’s help is enlisted by a local antiques dealer, Vincent and his reclusive artist friend, Madame Chevalier.

I’m still puzzled by Rumi quotes but I’ve just accepted that I will never understand him or Zeeta's mother's random use of them, but at least Zeeta doesn't get it either. This book was as close to utter perfection as a book can get. I freely admit that I’m biased towards books where the main character is completely immersed in another country. *shrugs* My previous complaint was that the author didn’t throw in enough Spanish/Quichua phrases but she obliges me here. I LOVE that this book not only features common French words and phrases but also French slang. It truly makes these books stand out because the reader is as close to immersion as possible without visiting or having the book be entirely in French. I’ve been on a French kick lately (reading this book, Anna and the French Kiss, watching Midnight in Paris-FABULOUS movie, and soon to read Paris Noire and This Side of the Sky) and I adore the culture, I desperately want to visit. I enjoyed this brief exchange about the French language when Zetta meets Jean Claude for the first time, “’Enchante, Zeeta.’ He says formally, shaking my hand. Enchanted to meet you. Not pleased. Not glad. Not happy. Enchanted. Magic seeps into even the most mundane interactions in this language.” (pg. 31), no wonder French is known as the language of love! Once again the setting comes alive in Laura Resau’s more-than-capable hands. We can see the street performers doing backflips and passing around a hat for coins, the quiet mime in the town’s square, envision the old houses with private houses and commiserate with Zeeta early in the book as she heads to the only Internet café in town to email and call Wendell. The cast of characters are lively, almost every facet of their being explored from the isolated Madame Chevalier to the mime Torture (French for turtle. Pronounced tor-TEW) to the nomadic members of the theater group Illusion (Jean Claude, Amadine, etc).

I could relate to Zeeta’s fear that she did not know how to be in a long-term relationship because her mother has ever been one. Not that I am in that same situation but Zeeta expresses her confused feelings on romance so well that it’s easy to sympathize with her because it's a frustrating situation. It’s easy to see why she is attracted to Wendell and Jean Claude, they both have attractive qualities. Instead of chasing Wendell’s birth parents as in the first book, here Zeeta is trying to get a better idea of her father because she suspects he might be her fantôme, even if he’s not she’s determined to make Layla remember any sort of clue. I can’t imagine having absolutely no idea who may father was or no way of tracking him down and having a mother who is utterly unconcerned. It’s easy to get caught up in Zeeta’s fantasy about her father but the actual scenario isn’t all that unrealistic. The story turns into a mystery and then takes a delightful turn into the magical involving Celtic lore and warriors and fountains. There’s definitely a quality of magical realism in this story and it flows smoothly with the narrative. I was pleasantly surprised by the Celtic traditions woven into the story but it was fascinating to read about because I was not familiar with the Celtic influence in France.

The Ruby Notebook has a whimsical quality but there’s more complexity to the story than that word allows. It’s a captivating read set in a captivating place, Aix-en-Provence. I really liked that Wendell and Zeeta didn’t do a cliché we-are-so-in-love-in-France type thing, instead their relationship is rocky. They both had some unrealistic expectations of a long-distance relationship and they have to work out the kinks or decide to break up. Not an easy decision but one that is explored realistically. The mystery unravels slowly and it’s truly difficult to figure out who the fantôme is, I did not see it coming. These stories could easily be adapted into films, they read like a screen-play (not that I’ve ever read one). Again, it is not necessary to read the first book in the Notebooks series but I highly recommend you do. You will finish this book feeling utterly enchanted with the setting, characters and author. Do not read these books hoping to be cured of wanderlust, I now have an insatiable desire to travel.

Disclosure: From the library