This is Life, by Dan Rhodes
After a couple of years living in the city, art student Aurélie Renard considers herself to be thoroughly, perhaps even smugly, Parisian and so wants her latest art project to be befitting the grandeur in which she feels herself to be living. She hits [ha!] upon the idea of selecting a random point in the city, standing unobtrusively somewhere in the vicinity, and hurling a stone into the throng of people who are bound to be there. Whosoever the stone hits will become the subject of her art project; she will follow that person for a week and produce paintings, sculptures and other crafty things based on her subject’s life.
So, having picked the perfect outfit [she “wanted to look like an artist in a way that was plausible but not overbearing”] as well as the perfect stone, Aurélie takes to the streets and takes aim. Her first throw seems to be straight and true until, that is, Aurélie realises that her perfect stone is hurtling directly towards a baby’s face. The baby’s mother is surprisingly understanding about the stoning of her infant. Perhaps too understanding in fact as, after Aurélie explains her proposed project, the mother promptly hands the baby over to Aurélie and says that she will collect him in a week. Hilarious consequences ensue.
This is Life is a fun and rather frivolous romp through the backstreets of Paris. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments as well as plenty of opportunities to giggle at the everyday absurdities of life. For a book that appears initially at least to be something of a ‘light’ read, This is Life actually offers some interesting insights into the meaning of life [although collecting all your bodily excretions and emissions in jars is probably not to be recommended] and the nature of art [think before you throw and so on] as well as offering some moments of genuine sadness.
This is Life is Dan Rhodes’ longest book thus far and so it is fitting that it has such a large and disparate cast of characters. While Aurélie Renard herself can sometimes seem, particularly at the beginning of the book, rather painfully twee in her outlook and actions, she is ultimately an entertaining and sympathetic, if a little infuriating, heroine. Although the stand-out member of the supporting cast has got to be Le Machine [a performance artist who is spending months naked on the stage of an old porno theatre in order to force his audience to question their lives], Professor Papavoine [an unabashedly pretentious academic worn down by his students’ proposed personal projects] and Lucien [an interpreter who is in love with a girl in a photograph] are also quite delightful.
Dan Rhodes is a very funny writer and his stories are always both quirky and enchanting, if usually far more dark than this. This is Life is a tale gleefully told; it is a delightful story about the magic of art and the beauty of everyday folk, even the cover art is an absolute treat.