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Mauvais jour de la marmotte au Louvre – ‘End of the World House’

May 4, 2022
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As with most genre tropes, I’m a fan of time loops provided the execution is there. If the writer is lazy or uninspired, the loops quickly lose their luster, fading into a spiral of repetition that leaves us bored and disinterested.

But if the writer comes in hot, with thoughtful ideas and narrative clarity, the time loop can be a powerful storytelling weapon, providing an altogether different (but no less effective) path to character development.

Adrienne Celt comes in hot.

Her new book is “End of the World House” (Simon & Schuster, $27.99), a taut and tightly-told tale of one woman’s journey through the same day over and over again – a journey that leaves her entangled in mystery even as her memories begin to bleed together. The fact that the day in question just happens to be one where she has access to a private tour of the Louvre is just icing on the proverbial cake.

(In case you haven’t worked it out yet, the title of this review translates roughly as “Groundhog Day at the Louvre.” I frankly don’t care if you’re amused or not, because I am delighted with myself.)

This is a story that takes place in a world where the end is looming, where everything exists in a state of perpetual precariousness. And our heroine Bertie is left to navigate this world with companions who may or may not actually be there with her, a messy mélange of memory that leaves her questioning not just the reality of the present, but the truth of the past.

Bertie is a cartoonist who abandoned her artistic dreams for the opportunity to draw the goofy dinosaur mascot of a massive tech conglomerate. It’s a lucrative gig, albeit one that is slowly grinding her creative soul into dust. However, her biggest concern – far beyond the mundanities of her job – is that her beloved Kate is moving to L.A., leaving Bertie alone in San Francisco.

In a last-ditch effort to keep Kate close to her, Bertie agrees to a whirlwind trip to Paris, even though the sociopolitical climate makes such tourism more than a little dangerous. Sure, there’s currently a ceasefire, but that could change at any minute. Before you know it, the bombs are raining down.

Still, the Paris trip proves engaging. But things get weird when Kate meets a stranger at the bar, a guy who offers her a private visit to the Louvre, one that takes place while the museum is closed. It’s odd, but who can resist the opportunity to see something so public in such a private manner?

But when Bertie and Kate go to the museum, their isolated wanderings change into something else. There are others present, just outside of the frame, and things get weird and blurry and … different.

And then the day begins anew.

We walk alongside Bertie as she spends time with Kate, yes, but also Dylan who is Bertie’s boyfriend(?) that sometimes knows who Kate is and sometimes doesn’t. And over and over again, she goes on the prearranged private tour of the Louvre, but every time she enters the museum, she’s tormented by a whirlwind of confusing thoughts. Has she been her before? Does she really know who Dylan is? And what happened to Kate?

It's relatively rare for me to have to put the brakes on in a plot synopsis for a book, but there’s a TON going on in “End of the World House” – far more than I’m interested in sharing. Suffice it to say that the spiraling impact of Bertie’s revisiting of this single day has wider consequences than anyone involved might have expected.

I’ll be honest – I wasn’t sure how I was going to engage with this book. As I said, I’m a fan of time loops, but I’ve been burned too many times. Not an issue here, as it turns out; Celt does a masterful job of navigating the complexities of time shifting. She manages to make each new day into both its own thing and a meditation on the days that have gone before. Unspooling this kind of narrative demands a delicate touch – and Celt proves more than capable of the requisite delicacy.

The joy here is the puzzle-piece complexity of the narrative. Celt has taken the standard time loop trope and given it a tweak; we get the same day over and over again, with the major pieces remaining the same, but with loads of wiggle room in the details. That flexibility gives the reader a sense of constantly being ever-so-slightly off-balance, leaving us all the more invested in engaging with every new bit of information.

Love can evolve when given a chance, just like anything else. “End of the World House” finds a way to give love the necessary space for that evolution – all within the same singular time period. It is a deft and intricate novel, woven together so neatly and tightly that one can’t see the seams, no matter how hard one strains.

Exploring the ways in which relationships can change and grow is pretty standard stuff for literature. Using the same day for those myriad explorations is something else entirely. And that’s what Adrienne Celt does with “End of the World House.” Starting over, starting again, starting anew – it’s all here. And here. And here.

What a difference a day makes.

Last modified on Wednesday, 04 May 2022 11:42

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