Desert Isle Keeper
Paris for One and Other Stories
Paris for One, a novella in this collection by Jojo Moyes, is one of the sweetest love stories I’ve ever read. I stayed up late to read it in one go, and I went to sleep with a smile on my face. It is set in Paris and is so quintessentially Parisian, it is a delight.
Nell is a meticulous, organized woman in her mid-twenties. She works a corporate job in London that involves detail-oriented work at which she excels. One day, she surprises her boyfriend, Pete, with two tickets for a three-day break in Paris. Taking his lackluster response as assent, she plans every aspect of their stay there.
However, on the day of their Chunnel train journey, she finds out that he’s stood her up and she’s terrified! She has never been anywhere on her own; she hasn’t even eaten in a restaurant by herself. And here she is heading to a country she’s never been to and where she doesn’t speak the language.
She is overcharged by her taxi driver in Paris but makes it to her hotel, only to find that they have just one room with two twin beds available and that Nell and another business woman believe they have reserved it. Both of them have printed bookings, but the hotel says that they’re full up. The hotel finally unbends enough to offer them a half price deal for sharing the room. For Nell, sharing a room with a stranger is another terrifying experience on top of all that has already gone before.
But she makes herself leave the hotel to go eat alone in a brasserie, starting to feel more relaxed as she spots other single people enjoying their meals. Then clumsiness strikes and she accidentally knocks her glass of wine over onto her server’s apron and shoes. All her insecurities come charging back.
She spends a sleepless night in fruitless self-castigation, but wakes up determined to stay the weekend and try to enjoy her trip. She discovers that her roommate has accidentally dropped two coveted tickets to a prestigious Frida Kahlo exhibition. As she’s waiting in line to enter the museum, lo and behold, there’s the server, Fabien, from the night before. To make up for the wine mishap, she gives him a ticket.
And thus begins their friendship. With the help of a memorable cast of secondary characters, Fabien and Nell bridge the gap of culture and language to get to know each other well. He makes her feel that she’s worth far more than even she gives herself credit for. He unabashedly admires her and that more than makes up for all the stings and slights she’s ever suffered from previous boyfriends.
Paris for One is a story of the blossoming of Nell from a shy, exacting, quiet girl into a beautiful, confident woman who takes charge of her destiny with a new zest for life.
The remaining tales in this collection are short stories, all told from a woman’s point of view. With one exception, they’re about how two people negotiate their marriages. When years have gone by and things droop and sag and the bloom is off the romantic rose, how do two people go about living their daily lives? How do they handle the stressors, the boredom, the busyness? How do they find the joie de vivre, the romance, the satisfaction? How do they go on? I find marriages fascinating to study.
Between the Tweets shows that how a person shows love is as unique as the person themselves. What may seem inexplicable to an outside observer makes perfect sense to one or both involved parties. Declan Travis is the host of a popular morning TV show, who has a reputation as a clean, wholesome family man. Unfortunately, he’s being persecuted via tweets by a woman claiming that he had an affair with her. He employs a detective agency to make the problem go away. What follows is a look into how pervasive Twitter has become to our lives and how people complicate their lives unnecessarily.
In Love in the Afternoon, Doug surprises Sara with a weekend getaway to a fancy hotel for their anniversary – only their anniversary happened weeks ago and Sara doesn’t like surprises. She has her weekend planned with kids’ activities, laundry, and other familial chores. But she obliges Doug by pasting a smile on her face, taking the bag packed for her by her daughter, dropping the kids off with Doug’s mother’s, and heading off to this hotel. What transpires then is lead by the awkwardness of two people who don’t do things as a couple any more. What on earth should they talk about once the topic of kids, the house, and their jobs is off the table? Do they find accord or more discord?
In A Bird in the Hand, Beth and Simon are at a party when unbeknownst to Simon, Beth meets her former lover, Ben. It’s been two years, but time just falls away and it’s as if they’re still breathlessly involved. Coincidentally, they’ve been seated next to each other at the formal dinner with their spouses seated elsewhere, and while they try to appear to be nonchalant, the intensity of their tête-à-tête is undeniable. Where will they each go from here?
Crocodile Shoes is a touching story of empowerment. A middle-aged conservative woman is transformed by spending one day in a pair of Louboutins. Her ho-hum work life and personal life are infused with a confidence and assurance that she carries within her going forward.
Last Year’s Coat is a heartbreaking story of a woman whose family is down on their circumstances and have had to downsize their life. Evie walks to work every day, passing the same shop window and sees that beautiful coat with the fur collar that she cannot afford, while her own coat is threadbare. The other women in her department at work have wealthy husbands and constantly parade their new purchases under her nose. Her husband is aware of her dream but is helpless to know how to give her what she wants. How will Evie pull herself out of her envy and sorrow?
Everybody is texting these days. People even have affairs through text messages. And that is what Miranda does in Thirteen Days with John C. On one of her evening walks, she finds a phone on the walkway. She brings it home thinking to snoop into the phone and figure out who it belongs to so she can return it. She falls into the text message stream of John C and the owner of the phone whom he calls Scarlet Woman. Out of boredom, out of determined contrariness, she assumes the role of Scarlet and starts a conversation with John C. They make jokes, they discuss things and she feels they have a real connection. Meanwhile, John C is constantly urging Scarlet to meet him. What will Miranda do next?
In The Christmas List, an exhausted woman is running around town on the twenty-third of December, trying to finish her Christmas shopping. She’s hounded by texts from her husband, reminding her of the various things she’s forgotten. At one point, a rare taxi stops for her and she hops in in relief. And she and the taxi driver strike up a conversation. The starkness of the difference between his home life and hers brings home her wretched circumstances. What will Chrissie do? How will she fix what is wrong with her life?
Holdups is a departure from the rest of the stories. It’s about a preternaturally calm woman who handles a robbery with aplomb in the jewelry store where she works. She befriends one of the robbers with beguiling conversation till she brains him with his baseball bat. But oh, there’s a delicious twist to this story.
Ms. Moyes tells a ripping good yarn and she does it here repeatedly with articulate precision. I found the obvious care she’s put into crafting her stories very appealing, and they are so engrossing, they race past quickly. I highly recommend this collection.