Cathy Kelly is another of my favourite authors; I’ve read all her previous fifteen books. Her trademark is warm Irish storytelling about modern life, always with an uplifting message, sense of community and strong female characters at the heart.
As the title suggests, the story starts at the top of the Eiffel Tower, where a young man proposes to his girlfriend. From that moment on, everything changes – not just for the couple but also for their families back in Ireland.
While there is a touch of romance (engagements and weddings), there is a lot of realism in the novel, as Kelly explores the problems of eating disorders, depression, infidelity, families, widowhood, divorce and relationships (between siblings, spouses/ex-spouses, friends, parents-and-children etc).
It Started With Paris is a heartwarming story, full of brilliant characters, beautifully written and full of human emotion. I found myself tearing and giggling at different parts of the novel. When I reached the final page, I wished I could get my hands on her next novel immediately. (The little teaser is enticing, for sure.)
Each chapter starts with a wise saying or quote; from Goethe’s “Love is an ideal thing, marriage is a real thing” in the Prologue to a Kenyan proverb, “The man may be the head of the home, but the wife is the heart” in the last chapter. In between, there is a Finnish proverb (Love is a flower which turns into fruit at marriage), two Chinese proverbs (If I keep a green bough in my heart, the singing bird will come; Love’s hearts are linked and always beat as one), a Burundi proverb (Where there is love, there is no darkness), quotes from well-known literary artists such as George Sand (There is only one happiness in life: to love and be loved), Aristotle (Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies), Victor Hugo (Life’s greatest happiness is to be convinced that we are loved), William Shakespeare (The course of true love never did run smooth), Virgil (Love conquers all), Robert Frost (There was never any heart truly great and generous, that was not also tender and compassionate), Lao Tzu (To love someone deeply gives you strength. Being loved by someone deeply gives you courage) and a dozen more, including one from the Bible.
Even some of Kelly’s own words are worthy of quoting; for example, “People were rude for such strange reasons: insecurity, anxiety, or an inability to express themselves any other way. It rarely had anything to do with the person they were being rude to.”
I wonder and marvel at how novelists like Kelly come up with all these ideas and inspirations for writing stories on a regular basis. Having attempted to write a short story myself, I know how difficult it is to write about people and situations, whether based on real life or purely imagined, and how a complex topic is born from a simple story arc.