Paris Tales : by Helen Constantine

Expect very French stories of seduction, sex,  sharing and reciprocity (the very stuff of life) and pages about food and wine and women in a delightful paperback, Paris Tales, translated by  Helen Constantine.

It isn’t a new publication, dated 2004 but I bought it at the National Gallery during the great Musee D’Orsay art exhibition, and anyone who shares my fascination for Paris, will love this anthology.

Writings are by famous French writers and date back to 1830 when Honore de Balzac wrote “Le Dernier Napoleon’’ through to contemporary writer Leon-Paul Fargue in ‘’Les Vingt arrondissements de Paris”2002.

It is a collection of short stories set in different areas of Paris, about Parisians and provides a page-turning glimpse into Parisian life from the mid-19th century to contemporary society.

And through the writers’ prism we see the undeniable richness of Paris, both then and now and understand how it has adapted to a vast population during the 20th century.

However, death is a surprising theme of famous French writer, Colette.

It was the first time I had read her work and I bought the book to feast on her style. She wrote on “so many dead’’ in  Montmartre Cemetery.

“This is just an odd sort of garden,’’ she had written back on November 6, 1913.

“…a toy-town consisting of  midget houses, chapels like huts, and mausoleums like shacks, all built out of massive stone, iron, or marble, all fashioned and carved in cheerful bad taste and with a childish self-importance…’’

Far more the French joie de vivre is Anna Gavalda’s  story What Goes On In Saint-Germain on seduction: “My Prince Charming, by now restored, came to sit next to me while we had coffee.

So close now, he knows for sure. I am definitely wearing stockings. He has felt the little hook at the top of my thighs.

I know at that moment he has forgotten everything else.

He lifts my hair and kisses the nape of my neck, the small hollow at the back.

He whispers in my ear that he adores the Bouelvard-Saint –Germain, that he adores burgundy and blackcurrant sorbet. I kiss the little cut on his chin. I apply myself to it. For some time, I have had in mind to do just that.

The coffees, the bill, the tip, our coats, just so many details now. Unimportant things holding us back.

Our hearts are thumping. He hands me my black coat and then…”

However, it is the character of Paris as a place where people live which is captivating  and as the translator observes, it emerges for each writer variously as glamorous, parochial, invasive, romantic, hostile, familiar.

We see the city also through the romantic run-away provincial wife in  Guy de Maupassant’s story A Parisian adventure  to the little boy truanting school to discover forbidden places in Georges Perec’s tale The Runaway.

A map of Paris Arrondissements  helps the reader pin-point the site of each story and this delightful anthology of French short stories about Paris gives such joy as well as deepens our knowledge of the most beautiful city in the world.

Published by Oxford University Press, translated by Helen Constantine, it costs $32.95 at bookshops or

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1 Comment to “Paris Tales : by Helen Constantine”

  1. By Eliane Kristensen, 05/07/2011 @ 7:24 pm

    Thanks for this review. Would you by any chance have the references of the French version (tried without success to check through Amazon). Being French (living in Denmark), I would obviously prefer to read it in original version. If you read French, I would suggest that you read “Métronome : L’histoire de France au rythme du métro parisien” by Lorànt Deutsch and Emmanuel Haymann” it is french history with starting points in the parisian metro stations. Original concept and a host of interesting stuff.

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