Boyd, William

Jonathan Cape


320 Pages

Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9780241143315

Language: English

Category: Literary studies: authors / works

William Boyd's first collection of non-fiction is a substantial volume of writings from the last three decades that range widely over his particular interests and obsessions. Bamboo gathers together Boyd's writing on literature, art, the movie business, television, people he has met, places he has visited and autobiographical reflections on his African childhood, his years at boarding school and the profession of novelist. From Pablo Picasso to the allure of the British Caff, from Charles Dickens to Catherine Deneuve, from mini-cabs to Brideshead Revisited, this collection proves a fascinating and surprisingly revealing companion to the work of one of Britain's leading novelists. Paris (Review of Around and about Paris, Volumes I-III by Thirza Vallois I first went to Paris in 1969, when I was seventeen, with my best friend, Charlie Bell. We were two callow sixth-formers determined to hitchhike through France to the fleshpots of the Cote d'Azur. We went to Paris only because we were given a lift there from London by a mutual friend, Rick, who duly dropped us at the access road of the main autoroute south. I think there were probably 200 other hitchhikers waiting there already and after three hours, during which time the queue had barely diminished, we decided to give up. As luck would have it. Rick was staying in a large apartment on the Ile St Louis with a fine view of Notre Dame and a spare room was found for us as we plotted other means of getting out of the place and heading for the Mediterranean. It took us a week to decide that we should pool our meagre savings and catch a train, but in that week, wandering around aimlessly, we made our acquaintance with a small section of the city - St Germain, Boul' Mich, the southern quais of the Seine (and a small park near Notre Dame where we would lunch frugally, daily, on a baguette and sliced tomatoes) - which, twenty-eight years later, still maps out my personal geography of the place. I am an irredeemable Left-Banker (as I suspect most non-Parisians are); the 5th, 6th and 7th arrondissements seem to contain all and more than I will ever need. Of course I venture elsewhere - the Marais, Montmartre, the 4th - but it is as if the city was defined for me by those indigent, fretful, peripatetic days we spent there in 1969. I started returning to Paris regularly in the early eighties when my novels began to be published in France. I suppose I have been going there four or five times a year ever since but I still never stray far from my usual haunts. Which is to confess that of these superb guides written by Thirza Vallois the only volume I have any qualification to assess is Volume I (ist-7th arrondissments). But if the other two volumes match the sheer mass of detail and anecdotal and scholarly information of the first, then I think we can safely toss all other Paris guidebooks aside. I tried to catch her out. My publisher, Le Seuil, has its offices in an elegant building in the Rue Jacob (6th) whose façade is used as its colophon; an eminent and venerable firm, but it is not mentioned (fair enough; in fact, neither are the firms of Gallimard and Grasset, its great rivals). Not far away is a cafe I often visit, a little self-consciously artistic, but undeniably authentique all the same, called La Palette. This is what Thirza Vallois has to say: At no. 43, on the corner of rue Jacques-Callot, La Palette is a stronghold of arty bohemia. The cafe has some exquisite ceramic decorations (signed Fouji: is it Foujita?) and it certainly has atmosphere, but it should only be visited by those who can tolerate a heavy veil of cigarette smoke and a surly welcome. Couldn't agree more. What could I add, having visited the establishment for more than a decade? They do a nice line in tartines - an open sandwich of pain poilâne with cheese or ham or pâté - and the loo is a genuine old-fashioned squatter, a ceramic-framed black hole picturesquely redolent of ancient sewers. But this is to nit-pick with inexcusable pedantry. Thirza Vallois writes about her city with passion and, more importantly, the unmistakable authority of first-hand knowledge. No visitor to the city (and, I suspect, more than a few Parisians could benefit also) who seriously wishes to venture beyond the mere touristique could do better than follow the numerous walks Thirza Vallois has devised through the city's twenty arrondissements. Paris is a small city, certainly compared to London. During the public transport strikes of last year a friend of mine told me he used to walk regularly from Montparnasse to his apartment in Montmartre - effectively traversing two-thirds of Paris - in forty-five minutes. Paris is made for walking and Thirza Vallois s guides are made for Paris. There can be no higher praise than if I say they come close to the standard set by the world's greatest guidebook, J.G. Links's Venice for Pleasure. All that is required is that the publishers reformat them (they are heftyish volumes) in handy, pocket-size paperbacks of maybe three arrondissements per book and they should soon achieve similar legendary status. 1998

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