cover image Paul


Daisy LaFarge. Riverhead, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-0-593-53884-5

In LaFarge’s timid debut novel (after the poetry collection Life Without Air), a young British student gets entangled with an older man during a summer in the French countryside. Frances Hawthorne, 21, is taking a break from her medieval history research in Paris after an unspecified incident with her toxic supervisor to volunteer at farms in the French countryside in exchange for room and board. At the first farm in Lazeaux, however, she becomes enchanted by Paul, her 40-something host. Over the course of her week on the farm, she and Paul fall into a romance before Frances must reluctantly depart for her next farm and hosts. There, after a death in the host’s family, she’s asked to leave earlier than planned, and she ends up back at Lazeaux, where Paul turns out to be a textbook misogynist. LaFarge confidently evokes the various settings, though often in a way that feels simultaneously heavy-handed and ethereal, such as Frances’s description of a Lazeaux McDonald’s: “The shift in light in the shaded interior feels vaguely spiritual, as if I’m approaching something sacred.” The spiritual motif seems to have something to do with Paul’s initial appeal to Frances (he shares the name of a saint), and there’s more symbolism in descriptions of cathedrals and murals, but the connections don’t fuse to the story of Paul or illuminate Frances. This shows promise, but it doesn’t quite cohere. (Aug.)