Paris Metro Tales, translated by Helen Constantine
A sequel to Helen Constantine’s Paris Tales; Paris Metro Tales is an anthology of twenty-two short stories linked to metro stations around Paris. Stories and authors range widely in age and style; some modern prose, some historical legend; but all are loosely related to certain landmarks and stations of Paris such as Les Halles or the Opéra. Each story is illustrated by a photo of the area and should readers wish to read the stories surrounded by the inspiration and scene, there is a Metro map and suggested itinerary around Paris beginning at Gare du Nord and finishing at Lamarck-Caulaincourt.
Fans of short stories will love the differing styles of prominent authors such as Zola, Simenon, Maupassant and Colette, which together provide a refreshingly varied read. Stories range in style from a 15th-century account of the miraculous Saint Genevieve, patron saint of Paris, to Paul Fornel’s ‘Story’ told from seven perspectives; a man, woman, boy, concierge, waiter, canary, and flowers. Frederic Farjardie’s thoughts of a man staggering from a blow in a civil riot – his memories weaving from past demonstrations as a militant leftist – are convincing as the coherent incoherence of a man with brain injuries. Anne Saumont’s story, beautifully crafted and narrated by ‘Therese’, is unencumbered by punctuation or speech marks as it rattles off narration, but is perfectly pitched to gradually reveal the nature of a confusing situation. Gérard de Nerval evokes the bustling market in Les Halles in the 1850s, now regretfully dismantled; while Colette recounts her involvement in a traffic accident near the Opéra.
In order to get the best of this book it is recommended to do as suggested and use it as the basis for several days of Parisian wandering. Best-loved for its quintessential architecture and grand design, little has changed in Haussmann’s Paris since the 1870s, and it should be possible to recapture the true essence and atmosphere of many of the stories. Helen Constantine has done an excellent job in translating the stories; though regretfully a little ‘je ne sais quoi’ seems to have been lost in translation. Beyond road names and landmarks, little evokes the true French style without a strong prior knowledge of the city. Constantine surmises that ‘translation is a mixture of craft and compromise’: thus it is complex and difficult to accurately convey an era and author style between languages. Regardless, it is still a richly varied collection of stories that will inspire a mix of thoughts and emotions; whether yearning, regret, inspiration or curiosity, Constantine has collated master writers of short stories and evoked something for everyone in the City of Lights.