Rating: 4 stars
Continuing my French interlude, while we were in Paris we dropped into Shakespeare and Company. I wanted to visit this iconic bookshop that specialises in English language publications and sits almost at the centre of Paris because of Mrs Hemingway. Hemingway had a habit of taking his conquests for the approval of its owner, Sylvia Beach. I didn’t realise, though, that the shop at Kilometre Zéro, is a different shop. Beach’s original Shakespeare & Co, haunt of Hemingway, Eliot, Pound and Joyce, was at Rue de l’Odéon. The shop we visited opened in 1951 and got its current name in 1964. A different Sylvia runs it.
It’s still a wonderful shop. I could have spent hours in there, but it’s so tiny and so busy that I decided not to linger. I was searching for a copy of Claudine in Paris by Colette, but they were out of stock. Instead, I picked up Zazie in the Metro.
Raymond Queneau’s book about a young girl who visits Paris and wreaks havoc in her uncle’s already eccentric life is a hoot of a book. Surreal like Flann O’Brien is surreal. The word play is fun and gives the prose its rhythm.
Zazie is a feisty potty-mouth who stirs up the weekend of her uncle and his friends. On her account they encounter all kinds of rum characters, and largely take it in their stride. I wish my French was better, so that I could read Zazie in the Metro in its original language. I imagine that the original is even funnier than the translation – there must be wordplay that doesn’t translate from French into English. I loved it. Everyone in it is beautifully realised.