Parisians, By Graham Robb
Great people come and go, but we'll always have Paris
Sunday 29 May 2011
Graham Robb's acclaimed biographies of Hugo, Balzac and Rimbaud mark him out as our foremost literary Francophile.
But this is perhaps his most ambitious project so far: an "adventure history" of Paris based on the lives of some of its most notable inhabitants, from Napoleon to Marie Antoinette, from Emile Zola to Juliette Greco.
Though the stories he tells are true, the author's lustrous prose and flair for narrative mean that his book resembles nothing so much as a grand episodic novel, packed with a splendid cast and studded with bravura set pieces. I relished his noir-tinged portrait of Eugène François Vidocq, the criminal-turned-detective who "hovered over 19th-century Paris like a phantom".
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