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The Link Magazine Review - Paris France

The Link Magazine Review - Paris France

 
Book Review:
The Link
Reviewed by "The Link" (www.paris-link.com)

Capital cities are cruel on the newcomer. Talk to any expatriate in Paris, and you will be told extraordinary stories relating to their first few weeks in town - who put them up, the first youth hostel they had to stay in, the dodgy landlords... Paris throws up hard luck stories and good luck stories alike. The Paris in Roman Payne's first novel, Crepuscule, is that of all our worst, and best stories.

Crepuscule starts on a ship, with the male hero David being shipped over to France in a wooden box. Sick and suffering, David is an American from Seattle with a French passport, and arrives in Brittany, where he is saved by a kind old man nearing retirement at the docks. Eventually, David makes it to Paris, where all his money is stolen, and wakes up in a hospital, which is demanding over 4000 francs worth of money in return for his passport.

David ends up in the care of an old doctor, Odette Moreaux, one of the book's most twisted characters. Moreaux drugs him and takes advantage of him regularly while he is unable to physically respond.

The book's heroine, Nastya, is a ballet dancer from Moscow. Displaying a considerable knowledge of Russian culture and character, Payne weaves in the story of Nastya with that of David, leading the reader from city to city, story to story. To do this, he takes Bulgakov's trick of the kindly, verbose narrator.

Bulgakov's masterpiece The Master and Margarita is a clear influence in Payne's first novel. Even the central idea of fate is crucial to both books - in Master and Margarita, the Master is resigned to his fate, while in Crepuscule, David is convinced that his fate lies in Paris, and Nastya is drawn to Paris, believing that it is her fate. The idea of the narrator speaking to the reader is developed from Bulgakov, too, and taken a step further when Payne reprimands the reader for having led him astray!

Nastya arrives in Paris after having received a letter and a train ticket from a "Monsieur de Chevalier". This gentleman offers lodging and a position at the Opéra Garnier to the book's heroine, but Nastya soon realises the man is a fake.

The two stories continue to wind around each other, as they lurch from comic tragedy to comic tragedy. Payne's timeless Paris is far from the saccharine Montmartre of Amélie Poulain, and much closer to that of Hemingway. In fact, it would be fairer to say that Payne's Paris is closer to the Saint Petersburg of Dostoyevsky, with its destitute courtyards and broken windows.

Fate, or the narrator, brings together the two characters, both having left their lodgings, and both homeless and penniless. They both realise that fate has worked its magic for them, and that the reason for being in Paris was to meet each other.

The tragic end sequence comes in stark contrast to the prose-enfused pages of the romance. Payne certainly never intended Crepuscule to become a Hollywood movie. Some readers may be shocked not just by the brutality, but by the speed with which it happens.

Blending wit, tragedy and beauty, Crepuscule is a brave piece of writing. Payne's talent is the ability to stir the emotions, to take his reader from the heights of ecstasy to the depths of despair. As the omnipresent narrator, he is fully in control, guiding the reader through the story and ruthlessly terminating the story.

Crepuscule is brave in its scope, as well. Bridging Paris and Moscow, Saint Germain and the Bolshoi, and introducing such foul, tragic characters such as Monsieur de Chevalier (also called Salaud, or Salaudski) and Odette Moreaux, the twisted, wrinkly GP from hell, Payne the poet finds something touching in everything he crosses.

Don't file Crepuscule under easy reading. File it under essential reading.


- Gareth Cartman, The Link Magazine
Paris, Spring 2005

 

 

The Link Magazine Review - Paris France


 
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