Excerpt from The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

by Phaedra Patrick

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick X
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick
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  • First Published:
    May 2016, 336 pages
    Jan 2017, 288 pages

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If Arthur had ever been asked to describe how he imagined Paris, he would say that actually he had never given much thought to the place. He had seen the Eiffel Tower on the place mats that Miriam had bought for half price in the Sainsbury's sale and once watched a program about a cruise boat that took tourists up and down the Seine, sailed by a captain who was both seasick and allergic to helping people. Arthur thought that the water looked rather murky and that if he had to sail anywhere it would be on one of those sleek white cruise ships with swimming pools on board, hopping off around the Mediterranean. Paris just wasn't one of those places that appealed to him.

Miriam, however, had a preoccupation with all things French. When it was on offer, she subscribed to a magazine called Viva! that featured lots of photos of chic women dancing through puddles while holding umbrellas, sipping tiny cups of coffee or carrying small dogs in the baskets on the front of their bicycles.

As far as he could remember she had never expressed a strong desire to visit Paris. She had said that the prices in shops were very expensive. He thought she knew this through reading her magazine. He himself had pictured a cliché—lots of people wearing striped tops, with strings of garlic and baguettes of bread poking out of their baskets.

His views were challenged yet again. It was as if everything he thought he knew, or even thought, was being rewritten. Paris was beautiful.

He stood at the side of the street and took in a picture-postcard scene. A skinny black cat slinked across the pavement in front of him. The white dome of the Sacré Coeur shone like an iced cake in the sunshine. The sound of a violin drifted from the louvered windows of an apartment over a coffee shop.

A man on a bicycle rode past whistling something melodic and beautiful. He could smell freshly baked bread from the patisserie, and his mouth began to water as he saw the flamingo-pink macaroons and meringues piled high on a cake stand.

Blossoms drifted from the trees as Arthur crossed the road to the boutique. Lucy didn't want to come into the little Parisian wedding dress shop fearing it would bring back bad memories of her wedding to Anthony. "I'll get a coffee and croissant at the café across the road and wait for you there," she said. Then she added, "Good luck."

In the window, one wedding dress lay draped over a white iron garden chair. A birdcage hung from the ceiling in which sat a feathered papier-mâché dove. The dress was oyster white with a bodice intricately adorned with tiny pearls in the shape of a clamshell. The skirt was embroidered with wavelike swirls. A dress fit for a mermaid. The sign read Le Dé à Coudre d'Or. In smaller letters underneath it said Propriétaire: Sylvie Bourdin.

As he reached up to twist the large brass doorknob, he caught sight of the back of his hand. His skin was translucent with blue motorway-map-like veins. His nails were thick and yellowing. In the glass of the door the young man who had married Miriam had vanished and in his place was an old man with too-thick white hair and wrinkles like a walnut. Time had gone so quickly. Sometimes he barely knew himself. He gave a wry smile and at least recognized his front teeth, which had always been slightly crooked.

A chain of small bells tinkled as he stepped inside. The shop was so cool that he shivered. The white marble floor glittered beneath a chandelier the size of a tractor tire. A row of wedding dresses hung on a rail down one side of the shop. There was a gold throne covered in blue velvet on which sat a Pomeranian dog. It wore a blue studded collar, the same color as the chair seat.

A lady appeared through an archway. She wore an immaculately cut cobalt blue suit and a wrist full of gold bangles. He estimated that she was a similar age to himself, though a good skin-care regime, lashings of black mascara and scarlet lips made her look fifteen years younger. Her hair was platinum and coiffed into a high bun and she had the lithe body of a dancer. "Bonjour, monsieur," her voice lilted. "Comment puis-je vous aider?"

Excerpted from The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick. Copyright © 2016 by Phaedra Patrick. Excerpted by permission of Mira Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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