Monday, 1 September 2014

Shakespeare and Company, and Paris

A well-read friend who knows my love of second-hand bookshops urged me some time ago to visit Shakespeare and Company, on Paris's Left Bank. During a short trip to the French capital, I found the shop, and discovered for myself that her praise for the place was well merited. It's hugely idiosyncratic, with places to sit and read from the substantial stock of books, not all of which are second-hand. Bags of atmosphere, and only a stone's throw from Notre Dame. It's immediately joined my list of favourite bookshops. and I'm really grateful for that recommendation.

This was my first visit to Paris for about thirty years; the occasion was a trip with my webmaster before he starts working life as a barrister. Since he'll be working in Lincoln's Inn, I felt it was about time to introduce
him to the work of Sarah Caudwell, and we each read a book of hers. Sadly, there are only four of those very funny, very clever stories - Sarah was far from prolific. There's an article about her on my website, but suffice to say that she was one of the more memorable writers I've met. I'll be featuring her work on this blog before long.

We tackled the obligatory sites, as well as some less well-known places. I climbed up to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower rather less quickly than I did all those years ago, and enjoyed my first cruise on the Seine. Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur were magnificent, of course, and so were a number of smaller churches, as well as several city parks and the Arc de Triomphe. Having explored the Louvre in the past, I very much enjoyed my first visit to the Musee d'Orsay, with (among much else) a fantastic collection of Impressionist paintings.

The French have a long tradition of detective fiction, though I've read French crime novels only sporadically. Years ago, I tried Maurice Leblanc, creator of Arsene Lupin, and was slightly underwhelmed, but I did like Gaston Leroux's The Mystery of the Yellow Room.. I enjoy Catherine Arley and one or two other suspense writers of the post-war period, but my favourite French crime writers are that gifted pair of magicians, Boileau and Narcejac. I still can't understand why so few of their books have been translated into English. As for one of today's superstars, Pierre Lemaitre, I thought Alex was very good, though I wasn't sure that some of the graphically described violence was absolutely necessary.

And, of course, what about Maigret? It's a very long time since I read any Simenon, but this trip has reminded me about a few Maigret stories in my library which I haven't got round to reading. Maybe it's time to give them a go.


seana graham said...

Lovely impressions, and as I happen to be reading a new book about Ulysses and censorship I am very happy to hear that Shakespeare and Company is still thriving.

I have probably said before how much I love Sarah Caudwell, and I should probably do a reread myself before too long.

Have you read Fred Vargas? Now that you've been in Paris again you might enjoy her quirky mystery novels if you haven't.

Clothes In Books said...

I was in Paris in June, and also visited Shakespeare and Co. Your post made me want to go back to Paris soon. I would love to hear more about Sarah Caudwell - one of my very favourites, and so sad that she wrote so little and died young. I will go and look up your piece about her, but please write about her again!

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Seana. I have an unread Vargas on the tottering TBR pile. Daunted by its length, but tempted!

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Moira - your wish is my command. I might do something later this week about Sarah.