If a book can take you through a process of discovery, Ms Shapiro's '13 rue Thérèse' comes as close as any I have read. Fluid in its form, lucid in its conception, tender in its spirit, this book says much about its author's feelings for the past and its resonance in the present. With the instincts (and imagination) of a good historian, Elena Mauli Shapiro takes us through Trevor Stratton's discovery of the relics of a past life, the life of Louise Brunet. The long dead Louise's artefacts lie in a tin which is deliberately placed by the enigmatic Josianne in Trevor's room. This is not the first time Josianne has left the tin for a man to find. We are invited to open the tin.
As Trevor grows ever more engrossed in Louise's life he grows more and more feverish. In his fevered state, time begins to slip and he is seen by the living of the earlier generation sitting in the corner of Louise's dying brother's bedroom. Louise is a young woman of irrepressibly irreverent humour. She teases a celibate priest with erotic confessions, she laughs at the idea of falsely drawing men out in order to deflate their authority, she transgresses in order to make her existence bearable to herself. Louise reaches a crisis in her life at which point the slippery nature of time brings her face to face with Trevor.
As the artefacts around which this book is based are real and remain in the possession of the author, the book contains images of the letters, photographs and other items which the fictional Trevor Stratton sifts through. Ms Shapiro is, therefore, exposing throughout her narrative the veracity of her own tale, the possibility that she (or Trevor, who keeps notes on his find) is a falsifier. She is questioning the nature of history and exploring the power of empathetic imagination of which she possess a great deal.
I loved this book. It is thought provoking, pleasantly erotic, hugely imaginative and unusual in its construction.