The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 2 January 2003

Last Nights of Paris

by Philippe Soupault

There is a romance and a mystery about the night streets of many large cities. (This reader's personal favorite is San Francisco.) There is, of course, a gritty and dark reality to these streets as well; an amoral and unknowable force seems to be at work. Perhaps this is merely an existential emptiness, meaninglessness. Paris is one such city with mystery, beauty and a dark underside. In the 1920s, while American expatriates lounged in Saint Germain cafés, French Dadaist author Philippe Soupault was exploring these night-time mysteries. His unnamed protagonist/narrator begins his dark journey by following an attractive woman of the night into the soggy streets. Together, they witness a strange midnight scene of street theater and ominous admissions. The peripatetic narrator is left literally in the dark about what is going on. How much does beautiful Georgette know? What will she reveal about Paris and her secrets? We follow Georgette around the streets, and through personality changes that occur as night becomes day. And we uncover the characters of the night, people who live within the night, and upon the whims of chance. In the end, chance is the key element in this story, as it was for many Dadaist artists and writers. The author lets himself sink into a world of random encounters and finds patterns and vibrancy there in the dark nights of Paris. This book, a translation from the French by William Carlos Williams, is erratic, vague and sometimes frustrating. But there is an electric note of hope and excitement, along with love of the city.

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