Friday, 2 February 2018

Book Review - The Flâneur

The Flâneur – Edmund White

In a sense this is a history of Paris. Not an official history of the city and buildings and politics and arrondisements of Paris, or that search for the true, essential, very soul of Paris that Americans sometimes get a little hung up on. I almost want to call it a personal history, but that would make White sound egocentric, and that’s not the sense I get from this book at all.

I suppose I would define it as a history of the Paris Edmund White lived in when he lived there, and the things that interested him about the places he walked, and the history of those places and the people, including his compatriots – White is American – who came to Paris before and after he did; and the personal relationships they had with the cafes and Parisians and culture of their time.   

White is a social commentator as well as a literary one, and the book takes in racism and politics, but smoothly, readily, neither blinking nor labouring over the more uncomfortable points. He delivers facts like nuggets, like a curator showing you the things he likes best in his collection, fired by your own enthusiasm. They may not be the ‘best’ things from an objective standpoint, they may not be the things the public crowds to see, but they are the things he has found that he would like to share with you.     

It made me think about Paris in the way Hemingway does – in the way I think about Trieste when I read Jan Morris, or London, when I walk through it sometimes. As a place which moves through your mind as you move through it. Where every individual’s relationship with the city can be unique, and every resident’s personal. 

Highly recommended. In fact, my favourite book so far this year.

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