Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Nicolas Barreau

Nicolas Barreau was born in Paris, the son of a French father and a German mother. He studied romance languages and literature at the Sorbonne and worked in a bookshop on the Rive Gauche in Paris but is far from an inexperienced bookworm. With his other successful novels, The Ingredients of Love, The Woman of My Life and You'll Find Me at the End of the World, he has gained an enthusiastic audience.

His new novel is One Evening in Paris.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Barreau's reply:
Well ... first of all I have to tell you that I should do more writing than reading at this very special moment as there is a deadline for my next novel, Paris Is Always a Good Idea, which will come out in September. Nevertheless I stumbled over a fantastic novel when reading the advance reading copy of Thomas Montasser’s A Very Special Year where a novel by Italo Calvino is mentioned. The narrator, a young lady in a little book-store, reads the first few lines of Calvino’s If on a winter's night a traveler and is intrigued.

And so was I. I had often heard about this famous novel but never read it. This time I couldn’t resist and bought the book. I was absolutely surprised and swept away by this funny, intelligent, entertaining and, in each and every way, ingenious novel about readers and writers, about what happens to you when you read a novel and when you write one.

It’s not one story – it’s a compilation of many stories as the main characters (a man and a woman) both buy a novel by Calvino but after one chapter, the text is interrupted by another story by a Polish author, which seems to be very suspenseful too. So they go back to the bookstore trying to change for the new book. After they start reading this one, they soon find out that it is – because of a false translation - another story again. And so it goes on and on and all these different stories end with a cliff hanger that keeps you wishing to know the rest.

It is a very clever game Calvino plays here with the reader (you or in this case me!) who becomes somehow involved, even in part of the story and falls in love with beautiful Ludmilla. Though confusing in the beginning, the story develops in a very rich and unforeseeable way. I cannot think of another book to compare it with – maybe it is a contemporary Sheherazade’s Tales from the Thousand and One Nights. It might take some pages to get in but once you are in you cannot stop reading this comedy that is also a wonderful reflection on the difficulties of writing and the nature of reading.

So if you want to read it yourself, I can only join Calvino’s opening lines: “Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade.” Happy reading!
Read more about One Evening in Paris and visit Nicolas Barreau's Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue