Set in Paris in 2014, this is the first novel from C K Stead in five years. It follows the fortunes of Max, an expat Kiwi working in Paris, married to a French woman and father of two children. It is a literary novel, both in content and in style. Max is a lecturer and writer so his world is peopled with academics. Reading, writing and literary criticism are central to the story along with politics and change. In 2014 Europe was grappling with economic, migrant and terrorist issues. These are the background and form a final twist at the end of the tale.
On another level it is also about love, relationships and fidelity. The approach has a distinctly French flair, but as Max is a New Zealander we see events with a slightly blurred lens. He moves between relationships in a similar way to his conversations: highly academic but not totally committed. The setting is perhaps one of the main characters as we wend our way down back streets, into courtyards and cafes and through apartments. This helps the reader become part of the story rather than reading from the outside.
Much of the text involves discussions about books I have read and long forgotten. I regretted my ignorance of some and felt relieved I had not tried others. I can see this book being much discussed and debated by the literati, but it was a challenge to one less read. At times the complex web of relationships and half-truths became hard to follow, and this became even more complicated when an artwork disappears.
Waiting 5 years for this publication was well worth while. IIt is not a quick read, but a slow savour, inviting you to re-read and re-think the ideas within, to allow you to truly enjoy the book. In some ways it is like a visit to the art gallery, where each room uncovers new treasures.
Reviewed by Kathy Watson
The Necessary Angel
by C K Stead
Published by Allen & Unwin NZ