Alicia Drake takes us on a journey through the Paris of her debut novel, I Love You Too Much.
I Love You Too Much is the coming-of-age story of a boy called Paul. It takes place in a small neighbourhood near to the Jardin du Luxembourg, which is in the 6ème arrondissement of Paris, on the Left Bank.
It is an area that is residential and privileged, full of families and students because of the schools in the neighbourhood and the Law and Pharmacy Faculties here.
I used to live on a small street just south of the Jardin du Luxembourg. I have five children and I used to cross the jardin everyday, sometimes up to six times a day to take them to school, pick them up from the halte-garderie, take them to activities, take them to play in the jardin. I walked back and forth across the jardin through the changing seasons, watching, observing. I saw children coming out of schools, hanging out in the jardin. I watched them playing in the sandpit, playing football on the dalle, which is a great big slap of tarmac in the jardin. I watched them sitting on park benches. It was at the outset of social media, there was Facebook, but no Snapchat or Instagram. I watched children’s and teenagers’ lives transform onto the screen in front of them.
The 6ème arrondissement is perceived as an idyllic place to live, and yet there seemed to me to be so much loneliness.
I love this sign. They put it up in the Jardin du Luxembourg on windy days to warn you of falling branches. It summons up all the romance of the city in the windswept figure, the bent tree, flying branches and blowing leaves. Where else would you find a hand-drawn health and safety notice? And yet for me it also captures the darkness and risk of Paris as experienced by Paul and all the characters in I Love You Too Much.
Paris is so small, it is like a stage. A closed city. Although there are no longer walls, the city still had a feeling of being contained during the period the novel is set, which is the Sarkozy era, a time of narcissism, privilege, keeping the ‘other’ out. Paris is almost a character within the novel: beautiful, archaic, aloof and indifferent. Lives and emotions are played out within a small and confined area. I was interested in what happens when you set lives in motion upon that stage.
Doorways and the courtyard beyond. A closed world. I am fascinated by the atmosphere of the courtyard in Paris: highly-charged, hidden. So much in Paris and in Paul’s life takes place behind closed doors.
Paul lives four flights up, which means for many periods of the day his feet don’t touch the ground. When I lived in Paris I found this practicality of apartment life disturbing, that you go upstairs in the evening and then your feet don’t touch the ground until the following morning. It felt like a strange divorce from nature.
Built in 1879, the carousel is the oldest in Paris. Riding on the carousel is part of the ritual of childhood in the Jardin du Luxembourg along with the pony rides, the Marionettes (puppet show) and the big swings. I was searching to express the solitude of childhood, the restraint and the melancholy that I felt so strongly here in the jardin and in these rituals.
These seats and benches are where the teenagers of the 6ème go and hang out. I imagined this is where Paul and his mates hung out, eating McDonalds during lunch, checking each other out, shouting out insults, growing up.
These empty coat stands and empty chairs are significant to me and to Paul.
This kiosque sells crêpes and refreshments. A place of comfort for Paul, it becomes a place of overheard conversations and broken hearts.
The idea of seeing into lives opposite obsessed me throughout my eighteen years in Paris. You live the life of those who live opposite you, not by choice. Paul is constantly seeing into the lives across the street. It is a weight he does not want to bear.