a) where is the action taking place?
b) who is the author?
Blackwell's Bookshops will award pounds 30 worth of book tokens to the first correct answer out of the hat. Answers on a postcard to: Literally Lost, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL. Usual competition rules apply. Entries to arrive by this Thursday.
The streets of -- inform us as to the two essential pleasures of the local youth: getting one's shoes shined and displaying those same shoes on the boulevard. In order to have a clear idea of the first of these delights, one has to entrust one's shoes, at ten o'clock on a Sunday morning, to the shoe-shiners in Boulevard Gallieni. Perched on a high arm-chair, one can enjoy that peculiar satisfaction produced, even upon a rank outsider, by the sight of men in love with their job as the shoe-shiners of -- obviously are. Everything is worked over in detail. Several brushes, three kinds of cloths, the polish mixed with gasoline. One might think the operation is finished when a perfect shine comes to life under the soft brush. But the same insistent hand covers the glossy surface again with polish, rubs it, dulls it, makes the cream penetrate the heart of the leather and then brings forth, under the same brush, a double and really definitive gloss sprung from the depths of the leather.
The wonders achieved in this way are then exhibited to the connoisseurs. In order to appreciate such pleasures of the boulevard you ought to see the masquerade of youth taking place every evening on the main arteries of the city. Between the ages of sixteen and twenty the young people of -- "society" borrow their models of elegance from American films and put on their fancy dress before going out to dinner. With wavy, oiled hair protruding from under a felt hat slanted over the left ear and peaked over the right eye, the neck encircled by a collar big enough to accommodate the straggling hair, the microscopic knot of the necktie kept in place by a regulation pin, with thigh-length coat and waist close to the hips, with light-coloured and noticeably short trousers, with dazzlingly shiny triple-soled shoes, every evening those youths make the pavements ring with their metal-tipped soles. In all things they are bent on imitating the bearing, forthrightness and superiority of Mr Clark Gable. For this reason the local carpers commonly nickname those youths, by favour of a casual pronunciation, "Clarques".
At any rate, the main boulevards of -- are invaded late in the afternoon by an army of attractive adolescents who go to the greatest trouble to look like a bad lot. Inasmuch as the girls of -- feel traditionally engaged to these soft-hearted gangsters, they likewise flaunt the make-up and elegance of popular American actresses. Consequently, the same wits call them "Marlenes".
Literally Lost 52: The book was Travels in Hyper Reality by Umberto Eco. The action took place in California. The winner is Laura Lau of West Wycombe.