The characters in Abha Dawesar’s charmingly oddball novel, That Summer in Paris, care so passionately about art that it literally turns them on. Maya, 25, is obsessed with fictional Indian-born Nobelist Prem Rustum’s novels, and cites him in her personal ad: ”Worship at his altar like I do.”
Through a series of coincidences, Prem — possibly the only male on earth who’d find that ad appealing — sees it. The two meet, and their rapport, Dawesar wants us to believe, is instant and erotic, despite the fact that Prem is 75 and essentially impotent while Maya is energetic and nubile. It’s a long, winding road to the bedroom: Prem and Maya think about their feelings, talk about them, write about them, and take a three-month trip to Paris where they eat good cheese and Prem rediscovers his libido — while gazing at a Rodin sculpture.
Dawesar would like us to feel the intensifying heat between Prem and Maya. That’s a tall order. It may be possible for a novelist to bridge a 50-year age gap in a sex scene, but this isn’t how to do it: ”’I feel like Galatea coming alive to Pygmalion’s kiss,’ she [Maya] whispered, moaning at the sensation of his flesh everywhere against her own.” Fortunately, there’s relatively little moaning — Prem is, after all, past his prime — and plenty of the sharp intellectual back-and-forth that drives both this unlikely romance and Dawesar’s quirky novel.