Saturday, 17 January 2015

Rules for the Perpetual Diet by KSR Burns

published 2014






[Amy, who lives in Arizona, is visiting Paris for the first time]

I am showered and dressed. I am again buttoned and belted into my lovely fingertip-length black trench coat. I have strapped my travel purse crossways over my chest and stocked my tote bag with umbrella, hat and scarf…

[later, in a street in Montmartre] Five more guys rush up and surround me, waving cellophane packages of cigarettes, perfumes, watches, shirts. One man dangles a plastic-wrapped Louis Vuitton-looking handbag in my face.

I grit my teeth. Despite my regulation black coat, black jeans and black boots I apparently have ‘gullible foreigner’ written all over me. I push through the clamouring vendors, avoiding eye contact and shaking my head, and hurry across the street to the store called Tati. In this quartier the sidewalks are much more crowded that in the neighbourhood where my hotel is. The people are different too. Women in Islamic scarves paw through cardboard boxes overflowing with colourful loose blouses and trousers. Bearded men in leather jackets, eyes black like their jackets, stand around and stare at the women. A teenage girl in an orange ankle-length skirt and green turban steps in front of me and forces me to bump against a man dressed in a long white caftan and a red-and-grey striped skullcap. No-one around me is speaking French.





observations: Sometimes it’s hard to decide which outfit to try to illustrate from the book I’m reading. In Rules for the Perpetual Diet there are plenty of clothes, Burns gives us an admirable picture of what Amy is wearing at all times, but there was little doubt in my mind from early on – I wanted to do the fingertip-length black trenchcoat. I absolutely love the way Amy keeps repeating that it is fingertip-length, and that she wears it everywhere, and that it gets some quite rough treatment yet keeps going. This is a Queen among coats.

Narrator Amy has made a sudden decision to visit Paris. Sudden in one way: she planned it over a long period of time with her best friend Kat. But now Kat has died, and Amy - grief-stricken, unsure about her marriage and her life – decides to make the trip on her own. Her husband has gone on a business trip, and she sneaks off without telling him.

Part of the fun of the book is that it’s not at all clear what genre it would fall into, though the first thing to make clear is that it is NOT a diet book – it’s a novel. Amy is obsessed with dieting and what she has to eat, and the book is punctuated with the rules of the title. But it’s not chicklit, or what in the UK is called a yummy mummy book, and at one point I thought it was going to slide into Rosemary’s Baby/Single White Female territory. (It didn’t, quite.)

Best just to enjoy it. It has a very twisting plotline - you never know what will happen to Amy next, and (unlike so many books) I had no idea how she was going to end up. I loved the scenes in Paris, which were so convincing and authentic and really reminded me of the city. The adventure in the catacombs below the streets was amazing – and it was even more amazing to find from the afterword that Burns had NOT done it herself: so a very impressive achievement. In general the book is very well-written – I loved all the food metaphors: all colours are described in terms of food (eyes black as olives, butter-coloured wallpaper and so on) and even Amy’s hair is in a ‘grapefruit-sized’ knot. The whole obsession with food was somewhat problematic – I found it off-putting, though I think most of us have known someone like Amy in that respect.

The characters are very well-drawn, and very much not black and white – I had a lot of sympathy for Amy’s husband, and found Amy sometimes very annoying. But that makes for intriguing reading…. The ending, though satisfying, isn’t completely resolved, but that’s because Burns is planning to write more books about these characters. It will be interesting to see what happens to them.

The trench-coat is by Via Spiga. The street scene is Montmartre, taken by Albany tim and shared on Wikimedia Commons.

Mrs ‘Arris went to Paris last week on the blog, and I went to Paris last summer and chased down pictures for these two entries on the young person's French masterpiece, Le Grand Meaulnes. Plenty more books and blogposts on Paris: click on the label below.







10 comments:

  1. Moira - I want a coat like that! And just from the bit you've shared, I can see how good Burns is at evoking place (in this case Paris). Those are very well-crafted descriptions, although I think I know what you mean about the constant references to food. I'm also really interested in the dynamic between Amy and her husband. It sounds as though that plays a role in the way she is and her choice to go ahead with that trip to Paris. Hmmm.....

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    1. Margot you are so right - we all need a coat like that. And perhaps we all need to live in Paris for a while too...and this is the book to make your really want to do that!

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  2. Moira: The fingertip-length black trench coat appears to made of the same material as Kinsey Milhone's (Sue Grafton) little black dress and Russell Quant's (Anthony Bidulka) wonderpants. The fabric, whether coat or dress or pants, is nigh on indestructible and makes into garments suitable for all occasions and look good no matter how treated!

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    1. Oh good call Bill, you are exactly right! That's some fancy fabric. I wondered if you were going to tell us that this coat wouldn't withstand the serious rain in your part of Canada....

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    2. No worries on the rain Moira but only a young woman would wear that coat outside on any day below 0C.

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    3. Bill, I've never lived in a very cold climate, but I am quite sure in every climate and every generation there are mothers saying to their daughters 'are you sure that will keep you warm/dry? Did you think of getting something more practical?' and the daughters are saying 'but it's so fashionable, and there's one just like it in Vogue...'

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  3. The excerpt certainly sounds good (except for the present tense writing). And all the images are perfect. This would fall on the Maybe Someday list.

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    1. It's a really enjoyable read, give it a go if you get the chance Tracy.

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  4. I really enjoyed this book and agree with you about the genre and plot twisting. I am so glad you chose the Queen among coats to feature. I was wincing at what happens to it, you know where.

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    1. But that coat is going to survive - I see it as a character in its own right, in this and future books. I look forward to meeting it again....

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