The Idea of Paris

Carroll, Tobias. “Is Paris Still an Art World Heavyweight?” InsideHook, 20 November 2019:

[…] A very different take on Paris and art comes from the recent anthology We’ll Never Have Paris, edited by Andrew Gallix. From his perspective, a lot of discussion of Paris emerges from Anglophone perceptions of it. “I have lived here most of my life — in several parts of the 9th and 14th arrondissements, as well as in the 6th and 18th — and currently reside in one of Paris’s poor, rat-infested northern banlieues, soon to be subsumed into a brave new Grand Paris,” he says. “I certainly cannot be accused of labouring under the delusion that it is all glamorous boutiques and bohemian cafés. I know what the reality of everyday life in Paris is and relaying it to an English-speaking readership was not what I set out to do. Quite the contrary, in fact.”

For Gallix, the anthology became a way to explore how certain writers helped to shape enduring perceptions of Paris. “It dawned on me that the romantic notion of a bohemian Paris that many people entertain all over the world owed as much to Hemingway and other English-language writers as to Hugo or Rimbaud,” he explains. “So I set out to explore this Anglo version of Paris. I wanted to see how the idea of Paris — whether rooted in their experience or not — inspired Anglophone writers today.”

Here, the contributors hail from a host of nations, including Will Self, Max Porter and Joanna Walsh. “I started off by approaching authors whose work I admired and who had, I knew, resided for a while in Paris, either recently or years ago,” Gallix says. “At the same time, I shunned the expat communities and in particular all those purveyors of ghastly expat memoirs. I also made sure that some of the contributors had never even set foot in France, let alone Paris, so that the remit would become a kind of Oulipian writing constraint in their case. Only five contributors, out of 79, currently reside in the French capital.”

Gallix also planned for a weighty volume from the very beginning. “I knew from the start that I wanted to produce a capacious volume that readers could dip into aboard the Eurostar or while sipping a coffee at a sidewalk café,” he says.

As for the reaction to We’ll Never Have Paris, it’s been mixed, he explains. “The book got very good reviews in the Times Literary Supplement and Financial Times. However, sales have proved much healthier in the US than in the UK despite the lack of reviews across the Pond,” Gallix says. “This is probably due to a strong sales team and good distribution. Perhaps the allure of Paris also remains greater over there. You tell me.”

Regardless of whether you embrace Paris wholeheartedly or view it with a historical remove, both [Will Mountain] Cox and Gallix are, in their own ways, demonstrating the continued vibrancy of the city and the work it can inspire. It’s not what you might expect, but it might be just the work you’re looking for.

Anything For a Quiet Death

Adam Mars-Jones, “Chop, Chop, Chop,” London Review of Books 21 January 2016

The problem with a book about the impact of death, like Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, is that closure isn’t something the bereaved can expect, but it’s a reasonable hope for readers. Death translated into a body of words is no longer death. The idea of progress in the grief-work keeps coming back. …

Yet the need for resolution never goes away. In the last section of the book the conventions start to be reinstated. Dad and the boys scatter the dead woman’s ashes, though there’s been no previous mention either of cremation as an event nor the urn (actually a tin) as an object. After the scornful dismissal by Dad of the idea of moving on, it turns out that narrative — and even quasi-narrative — has an atavistic need for resolution, however much the writer may try to resist it. This shift towards closure in the dying pages of the book is less like an atheist’s last-breath conversion to novelistic orthodoxy than a terminally ill patient’s weary concession, faced with family pressure, that the forms be followed if it makes everybody happy. A few hymns and a blessing, where’s the harm? Anything for a quiet death. But a rite of passage of some description seems to be a requirement in this context.

… When even an imaginary crow can’t abide by the logic of a meaningless death, it’s clear that the need to find significance at the moment life ends runs deep.

Famous last words need an audience. Someone must hear what is said, and must write it down – it would be embarrassing to admit that you weren’t certain of the phrasing. Someone needed to transcribe Keith Vaughan’s last words, and to decide at what point exactly they became illegible. The deathbed scene is a highly literary artefact, with editorial interventions both at the time and subsequently, when it is written down. …

Towards Before, Before, Before

“And the babes flung their duvets back in abandon, swung their little legs over the edge of the bed and scampered down the stairs. The chambers of their baffled baby hearts filled with yearning and they tingled, they bounded down towards before, before, before all this. The father, drunk on the voice of his beloved, raced down after them. The sound of her voice was stinging, like a moon-dragged starvation surging into every hopeless raw vacant pore, undoing exquisite undoing.”
Max Porter, Grief is the Thing with Feathers, 2015