With Lonely Planet naming Paris as the city to visit in 2014 and World Book Day taking place on the 6th March, what better way to celebrate both than by combining the two? We all know that Paris boasts an impressive literary history, having been home to the great writers of past, present and future – so if you fancy experiencing some of the magic for yourself, here are a few of our favourite books that take place in the City of Light.
Every writer that’s ever dreamed of residing in Paris and making a living from his words is dreaming of A Moveable Feast. In this classic novel, Hemingway writes of the early years of his life in 1920s Paris, his first marriage to Hadley Richardson and his escapades with a pre-Gatsby Fitzgerald in such a way as to evoke awe and jealously from readers the world over. If you’re a fan of moments of inspiration lovingly paired with mountains of inebriation, A Moveable Feast is the Parisian autobiography for you.
By definition, a flâneur saunters the streets, appearing to be absorbed in their own world, but in fact taking in everything that they see. One such flâneur is American novelist Edmund White, who called Paris his home for sixteen years and lived to not only tell the tale but also to dish the dirt on the underbelly of the city’s glamorous veneer. To read The Flâneur is to wander through the backstreets of Paris, privy to the seductive and exciting secrets that visitors don’t usually get to enjoy.
Published in Paris in 1934, Tropic of Cancer was deemed just too sexually explicit for American eyes and the book was prevented from reaching the country until 1961. This semi-autobiographical work of fiction loosely follows Miller’s life as a struggling writer in late ’20 Depression-era Paris and the pages overflow with controversy. Even today, the book still has the power to shock and it’s an unmissable insight into a side of Paris that’s perhaps normally kept behind closed doors.
You probably know it as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris is about so much more than simply Quasimodo. The book itself was written as a love letter to the hauntingly gothic buildings of Paris that, at the time of Hugo’s writing, were fading from eminence and falling into disrepair. Taking place in 15th century Paris, the story follows the compellingly tragic lives of hunchbacked Quasimodo who falls madly into a doomed love with beautiful gypsy Esmeralda after she shows him just one moment’s simple kindness.
Writing as his alter ego “Paul West” and changing the names of everyone else involved (for his sake as much as theirs), Stephen Clarke shares his experience of a year spent living in Paris as a 27-year-old Brit expat. The resulting book, A Year in the Merde is a laugh out loud account of life in Paris, taking off the rose tinted glasses for a no-holds-barred look that goes beyond the usual romance and seduction of the City of Love. A Year in the Merde brilliantly shows us a side of Paris that you won’t find in the guidebooks.
By Josie Sampson