A great memoir of a misspent youth, and of Paris in that wonderful time between the wars, when the city was the world capital of art and sex and adventure. The author fled from Canada to Montmartre in the late 20s and lived a hand-to-mouth existence, subsisting on bouillon and gin in various lonely tabacs
and struggling to write poetry, while he mixes with a crowd of other artists and expatriates including just about everyone that matters.
It's not pulled along by a driving plot or anything, but if you have any interest in the era or the setting, there will be plenty for you here to enjoy. What makes it particularly valuable is its remarkable honesty – the descriptions of Paris brothels in the 20s are fascinating, and there is the added bonus that he not only visited them as a client, but also, later, worked in one as a gigolo to make ends meet.During the following month I discovered several curious things about woman as sexual predator. Unlike man, she does not seek sex on a sudden impulse, at any time of the night or day; on the contrary she makes an appointment for it as she would with her manicurist or hairdresser. Moreover, she is much more coldblooded and condescending than man. I never met a woman at Madame Godenot's who showed me the least tenderness or humour in the course of our relations: without exception they were entirely selfish in their love-making.
This could have been rather tawdry, but actually he just treats everything in a cheerfully open way, seeing in almost everything that befalls him a chance to gain life experience at the very least. Basically this is a book infused with that feeling of being young and having the latitude to experiment and make mistakes with your whole life ahead of you.
Of course, a lot of the pleasure is in the chance to eavesdrop on a lot of famous or otherwise interesting people. James Joyce said what? Hemingway did what
? And the author seems to have known the lot of them. If you think you throw a mean party, have a look at what happens when John Glassco invites some friends round:After midnight the crowd increased steadily; no one left and the apartment was soon jammed. I remember the cherubic jowls of Picabia, the swollen forehead of Allan Tate, the prognathous jaw of Cummings, Nancy Cunard's elegant painted mask, the calm monastic skull of Marcel Duchamp. In a corner Cyril Connolly was quietly entertaining a small group with a parodic imitation of a German describing the charms of the Parisian prostitute. ‘
Kokott...’ he was murmuring, making expressive movements with his hands, ‘
unbeschreiblich pikant – exotisch...’ By the mantelpiece Foujita, with his sad monkey-face, was holding court with his usual entourage of beautiful women. Soaring effortlessly above the noise was the husky parrotlike scream of Kiki, now very fat but as beautiful as ever; she was displaying her thighs and bragging, as usual, that she was the only woman in Paris who had never had any pubic hair. In the kitchen, where I went to open the bottles, Ford Madox Ford was towering like an elephant, talking almost inaudibly about Thomas Hardy.
Now that's what I call a house party. I live in Montparnasse myself, and God knows it's not much like that nowadays – although it's nice to see that all his old drinking-spots like the Dôme and the Sélect are still here. Next time I'm in one I'll be raising a glass to what went on here back when Paris was still the centre of it all. If you want to find out, this book is a great place to start.