Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Book Review ~ "Paris Revealed" by Stephen Clarke

POSTED IN:  ~ PublicationsReviews ~ Books

Paris Revealed
The Secret Life of a City
by Stephen Clarke
Black Swan 2011
ISBN 9780552776967

Book Review
I have books about Paris coming out of my ears. And every time I see a new one, especially any with the words 'mystery' or (doubly especially) 'secret' in the title I tend to raise an eyebrow and prepare to discover what new twist on a tired old theme is being proffered up this time.

Happily, Stephen Clarke has managed to find an angle both highly entertaining and genuinely informative to regale us with. The result is nearly 300 pages of constantly refreshing anecdotes and stories about just what it is that makes Parisians so... Parisian.

The book is very well written and every page contains several gems of information and worthy witticisms to enjoy.

Clarke's thematicised his book around more or less standard topics, these being: Parisians; Pavements; Water; The Métro; History; Romance; Sex; Food; Fashion; Cinema; Art; Apartments. These hang together nicely and the whole book chugs along relentlessly, meaning it's very easy to read and never boring.

I must admit to a slight level of apprehension on picking up Paris Revealed, as I'd heard 'things' about Clarke's writing, things which many Paris and French writers have been accused of: easy laughs at the locals; horrendous stereotyping and so on.

Not having yet read any of Clarke's other books I can't say anything about them, but I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised, not by the lack of certain clichés (there are quite a few), but by the depth of his writing and the richness of information offered.

Without many of the typical French clichés a lot of the jokes would be irrelevant and in this case it would be a shame, because at no point do I feel that Clarke is making fun of the French. Indeed, the opposite is true. And clichés come from somewhere!

As a Parisian inhabitant of nearly two decades I'm more sensitive than many to unnecessary and simply untrue digs at my adopted hosts. In Paris Revealed, however, I feel a fellow soul's empathy for the city, including, certainly, some of the things which drive us nuts but never forgetting the fact that we've chosen to live here after all, and been accepted as the weird, but hopefully not wingeing foreigners we are.

Again, even in the simplest of asides Clarke demonstrates a deep understanding of the local customs and habits, both traditional and occasionally vulgar but all true nevertheless.

The peeing-in-public anecdotes must be reaching the end of their life-cycle now though, and I almost groan every time I see another reference to it, but the author's approach, as mentioned above, sidesteps my objections neatly, as it were. Even on well-worn subjects like these, fascinating factoids such as how many square metres of the city are urine sprayed each month show the surprising depths of Mr. Clarke's research for our further edification. As is true for all the many and varied topics covered in his latest book.

So I thoroughly recommend Paris Revealed to anyone who either already thinks they know the city or would like to know more from someone who really does know quite a lot more, and shares it amusingly with us here.


* Sab Will runs Photo and Curios Tours in Paris, and also manages a variety of Paris and photography-themed sites and blogs. He writes an illustrated Paris Chronicle every day, runs a Meetup group for Paris lovers, interviews Paris personalities and reviews Paris books (on this blog), and even contributes to the city's street art (shh), so feel free to browse some of the links below and in the right-hand column to find out more about what he gets up to out there...

© 2012 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Contact me directly with suggestions, questions and requests.

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