“Book Review: Sightseeing”
Reviewed by Rosa Kumar
Life imitates art in this sexy Parisian mystery.
Before picking up this book, I suggest pouring yourself a big glass of wine and keeping your phone or iPad handy. While you’re at it, keep the rest of the bottle handy, too. You might just need it.
Sightseeing by Michael Onofrey is a mysterious and sensual novella about a man, a woman, fine art, and a hypnotic night in Paris. It begins with our protagonist Wayne sauntering around a park and making eye contact with an attractive stranger. The stranger, however, knows exactly who Wayne is, even though Wayne has never met her before. Travelling as a single man in Paris, our protagonist decides to play her mental game and follows along with the narrative she has concocted in her mind. She knew him from before, when she saw him admiring a painting at the Musée d’Orsay. For her, that is when their story began.
There is only one rule for their tryst: they cannot talk about their pasts. He has a hundred questions he wants to ask her, but for Diane, a name that’s probably not hers, nothing before the Musée d’Orsay exists between them; their past is the Musée d’Orsay.
Diane is a fascinating woman, the very definition of hot and cold. In one moment, she’ll be warm and welcoming and flesh and blood, and in the next she’ll be aloof, quiet, and walking around with a sense of purpose our confused hero is not privy to. Occasionally, she even takes on alternative realities, becoming a manic woman escaping the Gestapo in 20th century Paris, but then in the next breath she is again a modern woman, flashing rolls of cash and grabbing Wayne into moments of heady passion.
“Diane totally inhibits whatever she’s involved with. Multiple personalities or phobias come to mind, but these terms are too tidy. Diane cannot be packaged into something like a nutcase.”
Diane marks passing moments with postcards she had picked up at the Musée d’Orsay; she places them in Wayne’s pocket to mark a significant interaction that’s about to occur, a moment she orchestrates based off of art pieces she saw Wayne admiring at the gallery. As a reader, I loved these moments of Wayne discovering one of Diane’s postcards; he and I both wait on pins and needles for Diane to manifest that card into reality.
“Gustave Courbet, The Origin of the World, 1866, oil on canvas.
“The entire scene shifts. The table setting is now a picture of half-eaten food. Diane’s dress now hangs idly from her shoulders, thin fabric manifesting. The light from the lamp is now sepia. The scent of the room has a slight cheese smell, warm and a little damp.”
This is when your phone will come in handy. To see the painting from the quote above, even if it’s from the tiny LED screen of your phone—and not, unfortunately, hanging inspiringly at the Orsay—contributes to the pleasure of reading Sightseeing; the added visuals you can see almost make you feel what he and Diane could be feeling. But as we know by now, that could be anything on Diane’s shaking spectrum of catatonic human emotions. So be careful.
Author Michael Onofrey weaves the art beautifully into this narrative. It never feels like pretentious name-dropping, but instead displays the art as a reflection of how Wayne and Diane are feeling when they look at it, a much more realistic and compelling use of the art.
This story is everything it promises to be. It is sexy. It is dark. It is a night in Paris shared between two strangers, a handful of postcards, and a bowl of olives. If you’re in the mood for a short, sensual adventure in Paris, Sightseeing could be your next European adventure.
Publisher: Clash Books
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