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Friday, February 21, 2020

Paris Adrift by EJ Swift




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Order Paris Adrift over here (USA) or here (UK)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: E. J. Swift is the author of The Osiris Project trilogy, a speculative fiction series set in a world radically altered by climate change, comprising OSIRIS, CATAVEIRO and TAMARUQ. Her short fiction has appeared in anthologies from Salt Publishing, NewCon Press and Jurassic London, including The Best British Fantasy (Salt Publishing, 2013 and 2014).

Swift was shortlisted for a 2013 BSFA Award in the Short Fiction category for her story "Saga's Children" (The Lowest Heaven, Jurassic) and was longlisted for the 2015 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award for "The Spiders of Stockholm" (Irregularity, Jurassic).

FORMAT: Paris Adrift was published by Solaris in 2018 and reissued in 2020. It's available in all formats from most retailers. Cover art by Joey Hi-Fi. The book counts 250 pages. 



OVERVIEW: The concept of time-travel is seducing. I love exploring it in fiction. Contrary to books describing the time-travel mechanism, Paris Adrift focuses on characters, not on science. The time portal, found in the keg room of a bar, allows the book’s protagonist, Hallie, to move through time. Hallie moved to Paris to escape her dull life, and find the meaning of it all (life, her emotions, family stuff). When a woman known as The Chronometrist approaches her, she discovers there’s more than one layer to reality. 



The strength of the novel lies mainly in exploring Hallie’s bar life and her relationships with her newfound family. They all approach adulthood. They lack an agenda or a deeper understanding of life. They drink, dance, flirt, and try to make it through the shift, sober. Emotions and relationships keep them busy and allow not to think of what to do with the rest of their lives. 

Even though I found Hallie’s behavior irritating, I related to her on some level. She wants more from her life than getting a degree, work, and family. She’s looking for a deeper meaning of it all, a quest I haven’t finished myself :) Like Hallie, her friends advance into adulthood. In their free time, they discuss Brexit, climate change, inequality, refugee crises, and more. They try to change reality, but not too hard and in rather shallow ways. 

A new political party, the Moulin Vert, led by charismatic Aide Lefort, gets their vote. Paris Adrift takes a stance on political issues, but it lacks any deeper insight into them or an idea of how to act on a bigger scale. Hallie’s friend, Gabriela, plans to become vegetarian because the meat industry hurts the planet. Don’t misunderstand me. I’ve been vegetarian for twenty years, more than half of my life. I just expect something more than that from a politically and environmentally engaged novel. A meaningful action plan instead of repeating catchphrases, maybe? 

The time travel mechanism remains unexplained. A handful of people, known as incumbents, can travel through time thanks to “anomalies” tied to individual travelers. Each travel takes a toll and with time leads to addiction. Hallie is such an incumbent. At first, she can’t believe she actually travels through time. After a few trips, though, she can’t resist it and her health suffers. During her travels, she affects the building of the Sacré Coeur or helps A Jewish musician to escape occupied city. 

In theory, her travels serve a higher goal - stopping the world from becoming a nuclear wasteland. Only Hallie doesn’t know this. Her travels and their goals are, supposedly, planned and designed by members of the mysterious Order of Janus who remain somewhere in the background for most of the novel. As a result, the plot meanders and lacks direction.

Paris Adrift contains many subplots (including a romance) and resolves most of them well. Even though I enjoyed reading it, I feel it lacks substance. It has memorable (if directionless) characters and an important (but shallowly presented) political message. Well worth a read, but something’s lacking.

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