I rearranged my reading queue this past week to jump immediately into Joanne Harris' newest, "The Girl with No Shadow," the long-awaited sequel to her celebrated "Chocolat." Finished it last night, and I have to say, it's excellent. Harris has tremendous descriptive power in her writing, uses imagery so well, that this modern fairy tale following the continued adventures of Vianne Rocher keeps one turning the pages. It's four years since Lansquenet, and Vianne and her daughters (yes, daughters plural) are now living above a chocolaterie in Montmartre, in Paris. They meet a mysterious stranger, Zozie de l'Alba, and then .... ! The book moves between the first-person perspectives of Vianne, her elder daughter Anouk, and Zozie. You have to read a couple of sentences at each chapter's beginning to realize who's 'speaking,' but considering that shifting identities (literal and figurative) form a large part of the plot, the technique works well.
The Montmartre setting also works well, since this particular neighborhood has its share of shifting identities: it's Paris, yet not Paris; it's one place in the daytime, another at night; a touristy hangout around the Place du Tertre and the Sacré-Coeur, a quiet village further west. Harris captures the distinctive nature of Montmartre and the quirkiness of its inhabitants.
For anyone visiting Paris who wants to get to know Montmartre better, I recommend a walking tour with Paris Walks. Ten Euros and you get an hour and a half of the Montmartre backstreets, a knowledgable guide, and a lot of entertaining history. The tour avoids the touristy spots and focuses on the little-known corners. Of course, Vincent and Theo's building at 54 Rue Lepic is part of the walk (can't go inside their apartment though, somebody lives there), and you'll hear about Montmartre's other artsy alumni, from Toulouse-Lautrec to Renoir to Picasso to Modigliani. I've taken that tour twice and learned a lot both times. Paris Walks runs many other walking tours around town; check out their website at www.paris-walks.com.