Paris Metro Tales

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Paris Metro Tales
Stories Translated by Helen Constantine
Oxford University Press – £9.99

For anyone who’s ever been to France’s capital city, Paris Metro Tales will ensure the inspired memories will come hurtling back at a most ferocious pace. It’s a joy to read, as not only does it open up the flood-gates of one’s imagination with regards this most beautiful of cities, quite possibly the most beautiful in the world, it introduces the reader to an array of writers.

Many of whom most defintely warrant further investigation.

Writers such as Jacques Reda and Julien Green for instance – whose two stories ‘The Gard du Nord’ and ‘Saint-Julien-Le-Pauvre’ immediately set the tone of this book by being its initial two – wax lyrical with such genuine ease and panache, I found myself wanting to read more.

Of the third busiest railway station in the world, Reda writes: ”The interior has been painted in two contrasting tones – a very dark greeny-blue, the colour of roquefort, and a salmon pink – yet they unite in joyful harmony, like a small polyphony of trumpets in a tapestry of greyhounds and medieval headdresses,” while of Saint-Julien-Le-Pauvre’s ”sumptuous past,” Green bequeaths the following: ”In this place, perhaps, Dante knelt, between these green walls that look as though an ocean has left behind trails of seaweed. In this place the visionary spoke to the Unseen Presence and later recalled a small street in Paris where he rested awhile in mediatation on his journey to the utmost depths of the inner world.”

And while Marie Desplechin’s ‘Summer Rain’ is riddled with an assortrment of cracking one liners (‘Too much companionship, not enough passion,’ ‘The ghost of happiness imploded in my head,’ ‘Crowds cloged the pavements. Thousands of heads floated by like little blind corks,’ ‘It resonates like the dull echo of pain,’ ‘Love is a deserted place, an abandoned room, nothing gained, nothing lost’), it’s an author whose work I’ve read in the past, that’s still my favourite short story herein.

I wouldn’t have thought Emile Zola needs any introduction, although I have to confess to not being familiar with a particularly exquisite short story, simply entitled ‘Snow.’ As delicate and refined as it is, it has continued to retain a certain poetic tonality; the sort of which is so sorely lacking amid an array lot of current (loudly shouted-about) literature:

”I have just crossed the Luxembourg gardens, without recognizing either the trees or borders. A far cry from the shimmering golds and greens in the red-and-yellow brightness of the setting sun. It was like being in a cemetery. The flower-beds resembled colossal marble tombs, with here and there shrubs for black crosses.

The staggered rows of chestnut trees are enormous chandeliers of spun glass. The work is exquisite; each little branch is decorated with fine crystals; delicate embroideries cover the brown bark. You dare not touch these fragile glass ornaments in case you break them.”

Each of the twenty-two short stories, which is accompanied by a relative, black and white photograph, is written in a totally different way: perhaps more subtlety here, and a lot less nuance there, more happy-go-lucky here, while a lot less density there. Which in all, accounts for just one of the (many) reasons why Paris Metro Tales is as good, while at times invigorating, and truly provocative as it is.

David Marx

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