In the past, I had put book reviews on my Tumblr, but honestly, I am trying to consolidate my author presence and it just makes more sense to get more utilization out of this website! So this will be a new thing that I will hope to do more regularly.
Right out of the gate, I would like to say this: I liked this book. But I know it will not be for everyone.
Biphobia exists in the queer community. Fatphobia does, too. Some folks don’t want to confront that in a romance, and that’s fine – we all have our escapes, we all have our boundaries. But it would be disingenuous to pretend that “No Fems, No Fats” isn’t a thing. Even if a lot of it happens with gay men, it’s still something that permeates every aspect of the queer community, including relationships between women.
Concerto in Chroma Major, the debut novel of French author Naomi Tajedler, confronts both biphobia and fatphobia, as noted in the content warnings at the start. It also has unpleasant people saying unpleasant things. And there is a direct reference to the Charlie Hebdo attack of 2015 that some may find startling (there was not a warning for this in my ARC).
But it also has so many wonderful things.
It has two women in their early to mid thirties, two creative, robust women in Paris with healthy appetites for food and sex and art and living. Halina is a renowned concert pianist with a reputation for an icy, distant nature. Alexandra is a professional glass artist and synesthete who is about to get the break her burgeoning career needs with a stained glass panel installation commission from the Paris Philharmonie. The two women meet and all but fall into bed together on the first night they encounter each other outside of work – into bed and into an instant misunderstanding.
Halina is apprehensive of relationships and commitment, due in part to a difficult, transitory upbringing as a bit of a child prodigy. Alexandra thinks that sex=relationship, especially when two people are having it off as often as they do in the first two weeks of their acquaintance, thanks to their electric chemistry and deep mutual attraction.
This leads to conflict, of course – but it is a conflict fairly quickly and neatly resolved. And if anything, this is my only significant complaint, that all the conflicts do seem to be resolved too smoothly.
Halina, for all her genius with music, is a bit of a clueless, arrogant twit when it comes to interpersonal relationships, so it comes as nearly no surprise that she has few friends apart from a gender non-conforming assistant who is as prickly as she is. She also proudly calls herself a “gold-star lesbian,” a term that many a non-lesbian woman loving woman cringes at hearing. And she’s a little too adamant at first about less-than-sylphlike women not being her usual taste, a little too jealous of Alexandra’s past with men.
She ain’t an angel, folks. To say the least.
Alexandra is a classic romantic case, and she isn’t always great at communicating her thoughts and feelings. She often seems to assume that things are going as well as she wants them to. But she is sweet and patient (until she isn’t! but we all have limits!) and passionate, and she enchants Halina from moment one, and they embark on a sensual journey together, getting to know each other and slowly banishing each other’s fears one by one – sometimes more rockily than others. They learn, slowly.
No, they are not perfect people, their closest friends certainly are not perfect (okay, I could have done with those two being less unpleasant to a degree). There are hurtful things said throughout the book, and not all of them are challenged (which is sadly true to how it is, however unhappily, in life). It seems to fall often to Alexandra to educate the younger, less socially-adept Halina, which is a large burden to put on one person.
But there is sweetness, here. There is lyrical prose, scorching hot sex, and practically pornographic descriptions of food. There is a distinct sense of modern Paris as experienced by a pair of expats – not the charming flower-bedecked balconies, baskets of croissants, and sunshine on cobblestones I think many of us have come to expect from books and movies set in Paris. Rather, these women work in the very modern-designed Paris Philharmonie, they talk about visiting Parisien sex shops, their lives are not centered around the Eiffel Tower and the Rive Gauche. Tajedler introduces us to bits of Paris we might know about, but don’t think about very often. There are no clichéd trips to Montmartre or rides on the Métro. We see, instead, Italian restaurants and Polish churches and jazz bars, layers of Paris we rarely see having their coverings pulled gently back. The descriptions of Alexandra’s synesthesia at work are fascinating, lovely little pops and swirls of color that add to the flowing descriptions of Halina’s piano playing.
Also, there is a corgi, Nature’s Silliest and Best Dog.
This is an imperfect book, as are all books. There are a couple of issues I would have liked to see resolved (I don’t know if a sequel is planned…if not, then I suppose much like life, sometimes things must be left to the imagination!), and as noted before, perhaps the two friends of the main characters were a bit too antagonistic at times. The dialogue…perhaps a touch too 90’s romantic movie at times, just a bit.
But people are imperfect, life is imperfect, unpleasantries happen, and I liked reading a sweetly written book that had two real, rumpled, prickly, difficult women falling in love and navigating the choppy waters of their diametrically opposed philosophies. I liked their affectionate moments, their developing understandings of themselves and each other. They were people, people I knew and could see in my head, aspects of different folk I have met in my own life, and that is something I value in a book myself.
This would not be for anyone looking for a queer female book version of Amélie. Although now that I think about it, I would totally read that too…
This is a delicious debut, and I will look forward to more from Naomi Tajedler.
Concerto in Chroma Major will be released on July 12th, 2018, available at all major book retailers and of course, the Interlude Press site.