Paris is a good place to mourn. It takes itself very seriously in a way that is sometimes tedious when you are young and full of the future, but is perfect when you are entering middle age and walking down cobblestone streets and missing someone you loved very much, particularly if that someone lived there. Paris is tonally at its most appropriate when you realize that somehow that someone, who was so intricately woven into the city — someone who, for you, was Paris — is no longer there and yet the city remains itself. The city somehow survives. But Paris absorbs your sadness like it has absorbed hundreds of years of sadness.
Paris understands that you aren’t in the mood to laugh. The museums will provide you with innumerable paintings of a headless John the Baptist, one from every angle as if they are crime scene photos, and paintings of Jesus killed in many more ways than are in our historical record — more ways than actually exist to kill a man in general — and still other paintings depicting war and combat and babies being eaten. Babies! Being eaten! The sheer scale of the paintings conveys their seriousness; their intensity is their importance. The amount of space they’re allowed to take up is what you need to know about Paris’ priorities. Paris understands that the only cure for your sadness is blood.
Like most brilliant ideas, it began as a joke. A friend and I were at lunch, discussing our frustrations with online dating, when I suddenly realized the ridiculousness of our conversation. Here we were, two modern, educated women, and we had spent nearly two hours talking about our romantic relationships! This wasn’t the sort of woman I wanted to be. I wanted to be Gloria Steinem. I wanted to be Ruth Bader Ginsbuerg. I didn’t want to be the sort of woman who spends her entire life talking about boys.
I decided, right then, that I needed to do something to alter the course of our conversation. Putting on my big-girl feminist cap, I said, “You know, there have been a lot of talented, amazing ladies, throughout history, who never coupled off. Emily Dickinson, for example.”
His Paris does exist in the present tense, irresistibly, undeniably real and alive, as though summoned by its creator rather than imagined. In this, the novel performs perfectly the function of literature, which is not to escape the world but to enter more completely into it.
Mr Clare is a great enjoyer—of people, landscape, and above all of language. With the flick of a phrase, he can transform even his nightmare into something positive—a healthy scourge, he suggests hopefully, a kind of sauna cleansing the pores of the mind. He writes that his journey has broken open from within him both a heaven and a horror. But the reader can have no real doubt as to which side he leans.
Times have changed, to say the least. Tiffany & Co. now shares a block and a wall with Trump Tower, a place where very bad things seem likely to have happened, a place where you may have recently stood in the middle of a surging mass of people chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!” during a political protest. Approaching the store requires maneuvering, at any hour, around large, ugly plastic barriers, and, for a certain kind of person, thinking about the state of the nation. Nonetheless, on Tuesday morning, I, too, tried to have breakfast at Tiffany’s.