Paris Postcards, the debut fictional effort of Guy Thomas Hibbert, is a delightful collection of linked short stories, all set in Paris.
The title holds a clue to a clever central conceit of these stories, which are presented chronologically, from 1925 to “the present day.” In each of them, a postcard sent from or to Paris– or found, or left, somewhere in Paris–has some kind of key importance in the plot. Sometimes the postcard resolves the narrative; sometimes it only deepens a mystery.
This conceit is very well-executed, and I found it pulling me forward through the stories with an eager pleasure akin to that of a child on a treasure hunt. There are other links between the stories too—sometimes characters, sometimes places—and while each of the stories can be enjoyed independently of the others, the author expresses the hope that “if you spot the links, I hope they make you smile and reflect on this sense of connectedness.”
Hibbert has a gift for forcing the reader to contemplate the complicated gray areas and muddy nuances of life in places where many of us prefer to see sharp, clear lines of right and wrong: collaboration with the enemy, infidelity to one’s spouse, the damages of war, poor parenting decisions, roads taken, or not taken…There is something vaguely O. Henry-ish about some of the stories, though I confess I have not quite put my finger on quite why this is so. Maybe it is something about the way it is so much easier to see ourselves, and our lives, clearly with the benefit of the hindsight that none of us have the advantage of having as we stumble forward through life. And how our blindness—about ourselves, about each other—can cause such unnecessary pain.
Through all of these stories runs a deep, sensitive, and poignant sense of the difficulties of life, and the suggestion that while forgiveness, understanding, and compassion for each other may not entirely solve our problems, it’s the best thing we have to give, and can go a long way toward assuaging that pain, even when it comes late in the day.