Ransacking Paris: A year with Montaigne and friends
University of Queensland Press, $29.95 pb, 274 pp, 9780702253393
Patti Miller has written four books of or about memoir, one of which, The Mind of a Thief (UQP, 2012) won the New South Wales Premier’s History Award, and she has taught life writing for more than twenty years. Yet her most recent publication, Ransacking Paris, while enjoyable at one level, is disappointing at another. There is a serious mismatch between form and content, the jarring discrepancy between them not helped by the characteristic peculiar to all memoir of the writer being present on virtually every page. This memoir wears not only its heart, but its author on its sleeve; there is a whiff of Josh Thomas’s recent television series Please Like Me in its tone.
When the writer is honest, modest, and disarming, what’s not to like? Miller is clearly a likeable person, generously sharing with us her memories of a year’s stay in Paris happily accompanied by her sympathetic husband. The voice is consistent, her personal style well-honed. Then what is the issue? Well, the content, and, yes, its presentation. This memoir is not just about the fulfilment of a long-standing dream to live in the fabled city, or how, arriving in Paris with very little French, she got to know both the language and the locals through one-on-one conversation classes, even joining a choir and performing in a street concert. It is also about classical French memoirists, medieval and modern, Montaigne, Beauvoir et al.