There are two really standout things about Anstey Harris’ Goodbye, Paris. The first is the exquisite attention to detail in re: playing music and crafting musical instruments. Ms Harris’ husband is a violin-maker, and you can tell she’s shadowed him quite closely for the purposes of this novel. Her gifts as a writer are even more extraordinary given that she doesn’t play (much or well, according to the extra material in the back of my Kindle version) herself.
The second, and perhaps most important, is the emphasis on kindness in these pages. Our heroine, Grace Atherton, is a stringed instrument maker who long ago gave up her career as a cellist after a traumatic experience in college. After establishing herself as a luthier, she meets handsome, charismatic, married David at a party, and the two embark on a passionate eight-year long affair, travelling from her little village in Kent to their beloved Paris and back, keeping things secret in order to protect his children. But when David accidentally becomes a French hero, in the process outing his relationship with Grace, everything begins to fall apart. With the help of her rebellious teenage assistant, Nadia, and her dapper older customer, Mr Williams, Grace will have to pick up the pieces and try to rebuild her life, even as her past refuses to stay buried for much longer.
The story beats aren’t terribly different from other contemporary novels, but the narrative choices echo Grace’s taste in music: traditional tunes given interesting, often elegant new interpretations by their players. Ms Harris eschews the usual judgments and selfishness often endemic to fictional characters in the situations she presents and gives us readers instead a world where compassion and empathy reign. In fact, the most monstrous act of the entire book comes when a character pretends that his cruelty was meant to be kindness all along. Ms Harris doesn’t condemn a person’s weaknesses and doesn’t pretend that Grace or anyone else in this book is anything but a flawed, human character, but she also uplifts their strengths with acts of love and consideration for the people around them. It’s a heartwarming novel and a reminder that sometimes even the littlest kindnesses can mean the world to their recipients.