The Girl on Paper by Guillaume Musso

published 2011
translated by Emily Boyce and Anna Aitken

She crouched down and started to rummage around in her bag, pulling out a new outfit. Unselfconsciously she undid her jeans, replacing them with a pair of white hot pants, and swapped her jacket for a pale-blue fitted Balmain number with dramatic pointy shoulders. ‘We’ll be in a car within the next ten minutes,’ she promised, readjusting her sunglasses and adopting a more seductive pose. I found myself once again taken aback by the apparent duality of her nature. She could go from a playful and candid young girl to an arrogant and alluring femme fatale in the blink of an eye.

‘Looks like Pretty Woman has cleaned out the boutiques on Rodeo Drive,’ I called after her as I followed her down the road.

‘Pretty Woman has had just about enough of you.’

observations: I couldn’t remember how this book ended up on my Kindle exactly – I knew I had paid very little for it, and I don’t like reading up about a book just when I’m about to start it, for fear of spoilers. About a third of the way through I thought ‘oh this must be self-published, that’s why it’s so cheap’. It seemed a satisfactory answer, and I ripped my way through the rest of it, thinking well oh dear oh dear it’s rubbish, but at least he’s trying.

Imagine my surprise at finding out that Musso is one of France’s best-selling authors, and his books sell in their millions around the world. Generally I don’t cover books I dislike on the blog, but it’s not going to hurt him, everyone else likes him.

So: The Girl on Paper starts out with an intriguing concept – best-selling author finds one of his characters falling into his life. This was full of possibilities, and the woman herself had some charm. But then the whole book goes wrong – it doesn’t make sense on any level, the plot hasn’t been worked out properly, there’s a whole section in the second half (about bookcrossing) which doesn’t connect up, nobody acts or talks in a realistic way, none of it is believable. It’s a mishmash of genres and clich├ęs: thriller, children-from-the-Projects getting out, secrets in the past, the role of author and reader in literature – it’s all there, but none of it done well.

And there are endless problems with tone – as in the above piece. Pretty Woman doesn’t buy outfits like this on Rodeo Drive – she gets ladylike covered-up outfits to replace her too-short skirt. At other times it’s not clear if it’s the translation at fault or the original writing: satin trousers? And surely ‘sought-after’ is wrong in the description of the Avery Fisher Prize – football players and concert tickets are sought-after, while the Avery Fisher Prize is not even something you can apply for. Bad books bring out the inner pedant.

The picture is of Rihanna in a Balmain jacket.


  1. Moira - Doesn't matter how popular the author is. If the book isn't well-written, it's not. I always love the way you show how clothes and character work together but in this case, I think I'll give the novel itself a miss...


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