It has been over a decade since the term “chick-lit” fell out of favour—and thank God, given the infantilising connotations. With this, however, a specific sort of fiction about largely urban women and their everyday lives—which was clever, funny and sharp, and which took into account the complex natures of their various relationships, as well as the complicated ways in which they sought to carve out a space for themselves—also seemed to slow.
Where “chick-lit” became “romantic comedy”, by default, non-romantic relationships in these characters’ lives were pushed to the background, distancing readers who had looked for more than that uni-dimensionality to their flawed-but-cool women protagonists. Where it became “women’s fiction”, it would be swathed in sheets of seriousness, weighing itself down. The delightful and apparently “frivolous” prose and plot lines of an Anuja Chauhan or a Moni Mohsin would be sold short if put in either of these boxes.
Koël Purie Rinchet’s Clearly Invisible In Paris follows these spirited predecessors. The TV and film personality’s first novel is about four women, all immigrants, from different countries and classes, harbouring insecurities and pasts, who are trying to make a life in Paris, the city of liberté and égalité, while also working through mental, physical and emotional isolation, either enforced upon them by the world or of their own making. The story is told through an engaging, non-linear timeline.
The four characters—Neera, originally from small-town India and now a socialite married to a famous, older Parisian film director; Dasha, a young, struggling model from Russia; Violet, a transgender woman and burlesque dancer from Senegal; and Rosel, a Filipina woman working as a house help and nounou for wealthy families—end up living on different floors of the same Haussmann building in Paris, their paths crossing unexpectedly.
Purie Rinchet etches all four women, their inner monologues, their homes, as well as their life and stories from before they come to Paris, with great love and detail—like she knew, and was intimately affected by, every one of their stories.
No character feels less cared for—and they are each given their moment to shine. Minor characters, too, are so well thought out that they become quickly believable; their idiosyncrasies and vulnerabilities feel nothing short of real.
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This strength in Purie Rinchet’s writing, coupled with the overall (pardon the throwback, but “chick-lit” era) tongue-in-cheek humour, makes the book—despite its continuous commentary on class, belonging, immigration, motherhood, trans lives, corona lockdown, love and loss—breezy and lively.
A shining example is this almost Wodehousian sentence: “Luckily, the prospect of the world coming to an end had saved him from his own lack of tenacity.”
At a time when some books in women’s literary fiction try to make all the right noises about all the right kind of issues, Clearly Invisible In Paris does not try to be something it is not. Nor does it force-fit anything—not even its fleeting Bollywood star cameo.