Noon In Paris, Eight In Chicago by Douglas Cowie
Love: the greatest adventure; a high-stakes, perilous undertaking; a long-odds gamble, for the greatest reward. Its possibilities so often flail under its fated idealism: a fire doused by time, experience and – most crushingly – familiarity. Hearts a-shudder becalmed by grey realities.
American post-war novelist Nelson Agren and French writer and intellectual Simone de Beauvoir were unlikely to ever allow love's cruel vagaries to cloud their ardour. As they begin their lengthy on-off affair, flying between their respective home towns of Chicago and Paris, Douglas Cowie's second novel unveils with documentary precision the impossible depth of their passion. Though their sexual connection is intense and real, Cowie favours understatement and suggestion over bedroom fireworks. As de Beauvoir arrives at Algren's apartment building after months apart, words left unsaid heat the page: 'She didn’t need to ring the bell.'
Cowie opts to show rather than tell, so as the couple's relationship twists and sours with the years, he utilises a strong supporting cast (including de Beauvoir's lover Jean-Paul Sartre) to flesh out a series of quietly devastating sequences. Their early playfulness (Algren sends her a telegram that says: 'LOCAL YOUTH AWAITS ADVERTISED ARRIVAL OF CRAZY FROG') is all but erased by the time de Beauvoir reveals aspects of their affair in her book The Mandarins. Love among the ruins and, as ever, nobody to blame but themselves. A classic story brought to life by classic story-telling.