In brief: Paul is not your average teenager. He lives in Paris, his parents have split and he’s a new big brother. But Paul’s problems run deeper. His new friend Scarlett offers some lightness in his life…
The good: I really, really felt for Paul. The ending is breathtaking.
The not-so-good: Craving French pastries now – Paul (and Alicia Drake) make them sound too delicious.
Why I chose it: Gorgeous hardcover that intrigued me – thanks Pan Macmillan for the copy.
Publisher: Picador (Pan Macmillan)
Rating: 9 out of 10
I’m a sucker for a nice looking book and I Love You Too Much is a gorgeous golden yellow hardcover with end papers of chic Parisian buildings. Plus, it was just the right size to slip into my bag to read at the hairdresser’s! This story goes much deeper than idly reading at the hairdresser though. It’s a sad story of being the odd one out as a teenager in more ways than one. It offers some fun times and some hope though – it’s not completely a downer. It’s not quite a coming of age story but a realisation of the adult concepts of the world and that things aren’t easily explainable or excused.
I Love You Too Much is told by Paul, a teenager who sticks out for all the wrong reasons in his eyes. His parents have split up and Paul feels he is a constant disappointment to them, having not managed to get into the select school they wanted and having a fondness for almost any kind of food. But Paul’s parents aren’t exactly doing him a favour either. His mother focuses on her business and her younger almost rock-star boyfriend. Paul and his brand new half-sister are left to be raised by the nanny Cindy, who is half a world away from her own children in the Philippines. His father is out to run marathons and revel in his sudden freedom. Paul’s parents buy him off with money, games and food to deter the guilt they feel.
Paul sits on the fringes of his world until he meets Scarlett while his mother is at a spa holiday. Scarlett is incredibly vivacious, outgoing and a bit dangerous. She and Paul become friends and Paul has never been happier. Scarlett makes him feel like he belongs somewhere with her texts and adventures. But when Paul sees something he can barely take in, he loses the words to tell Scarlett. Then Scarlett starts to show some other sides to her character…
It’s clear from the writing that Alicia Drake has a deep love of Paris. The areas, their buildings and the activities that go on in day to day Paris are explained intricately. I’ve never been to Paris, but from her descriptions I’m sure I could recognise the sixth arrondissement. I really enjoyed seeing Paris and Parisians at their day to day level, far away from the glamour and romance of the Eiffel Tower. Drake’s descriptions of the spa and all the adults dutifully going for their treatments in the attempt to defy time was rather amusing, especially when so few of them took up the buffet offer of pastries! I don’t blame Paul for filling his pockets.
I thought it was really clever how Paul starts to tell the reader about his life and slowly, more and more problems are revealed. Paul’s issues with food only come out gradually and just when you think his story can’t get worse, he stumbles on something no child should ever see. I thought this would be a relatively light story but it gets darker and more contemplative as it goes on. The finale certainly raised a lot of questions to ponder over – is it an almost happy ending? Have any of the characters learned anything? Where to from here? Will Lou (Paul’s little sister) suffer the same lonely existence? It’s sad and contemplative, but I still enjoyed the story. I enjoyed Scarlett’s recklessness and Paul’s wanderings. Even his selfish parents were interesting to read, perhaps because it was unexpected. Overall, I Love You Too Much is both poignant and powerful, a solid fiction debut by Alicia Drake.