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Paris Trance

Paris Trance

by Geoff Dyer

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Luke moves to Paris and, with his new love and the other expatriate couple from whom they become inseparable, wanders the Eleventh Arrondissement where clubs, cafés, banter, and ecstasy now occupy Gertrude Stein's city "which is not real but is really there."

In Paris Trance, Geoff Dyer fixes a dream of happiness—and its aftermath—with


Luke moves to Paris and, with his new love and the other expatriate couple from whom they become inseparable, wanders the Eleventh Arrondissement where clubs, cafés, banter, and ecstasy now occupy Gertrude Stein's city "which is not real but is really there."

In Paris Trance, Geoff Dyer fixes a dream of happiness—and its aftermath—with photographic precision. Boldly erotic and hauntingly elegiac, comic and romantic, this brilliant reconception of the classic expatriate novels of the Lost Generation confirms Dyer as one of our most original and talented writers.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"Whatever makes events into a story is almost entirely missing from what follows," claims the narrator of this alluring pseudo-memoir of a blissful interlude lost and remembered. Fashionable fin-de-si cle lack of faith in the cohesion of experience or the ability of language to contain it detracts nothing from the lyrical intelligence of Dyer's (Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence) wittily British "story" of two men playing expat in Paris--one of whom, Alex, is the unstated narrator, though he refers to himself in the third person. The story is this: 27-year-old Luke Barnes has left England for Paris in order to write a novel, but life overtakes his plans. He finds a friend in Alex, who shares his fascination with film--a medium with the capacity, like music, to repeat itself endlessly. Luke meets and falls in love with Nicole, a beautiful Yugoslavian finishing her studies in Paris; Alex's partner is Sahra, an interpreter also new to the city. The two couples spend their time in search of the ultimate experience, the eternal "now." They vacation together, experiment with sex and drugs and go to dance clubs where the trance-like music prescribes "no distance or direction." Inevitably, ecstasy loses its edge, and as if compelled to enact the ending of one of his beloved films, Luke moves away. When Alex encounters him years later, Luke has embraced a lonely anonymity. The book ends not with this hopeless finality, though, but with the description of a rapturous, timeless afternoon by the sea enjoyed by the four lovers in their heyday. Thus, by writing the novel that Luke should have written, Alex succeeds, to an extent, in conquering time, in giving himself "the chance to rearrange, alter, change; to make things end differently." Hypnotic and evocative, this complicated novel is a superb re-creation of an idyllic time, the dreamy druggy Eden of golden youth. (May) FYI: Dyer's Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence is an NBCC nominee in criticism.
Library Journal
At 26, Luke leaves England for Paris, hell-bent on living the life of a dissolute wannabe writer. He produces precious little writing, preferring to spend his energy on his sexually inventive affair with the lovely Nicole and his friendship with best chum Alex and his lover, Sahra. The foursome vacation together, prowl the Parisian movie houses for must-see films that trigger (for them, anyway) snappy critical analysis. Drug consumption glues the four friends together until Luke's selfishness inevitably unravels their ties. A frustrating effort by a clearly talented writer (nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award for Out of Sheer Rage: Wresling with D.H. Lawrence) whose flashes of brilliance are more tease than enticement. Attempts to be clever by shifting narrator Alex's story back and forth from first to third person fall short. Ironically, the author warns his readers on the very first page that this is going to be a slog. "The events recorded here concerned only a handful of people and, quite probably, are of interest only to those people." Exactly. Not recommended.--Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
English music- and literary-critic Dyer (Out of Sheer Rage, 1998, etc.) offers his first novel—a disappointing improvisation on the Parisian themes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Not so many years ago, at the age of 26, Luke Barnes moved from London to Paris to write "a book based on his experiences of living." In Paris, Luke goes to a lot of movies (especially action thrillers and POW films) and eventually finds work at the Garnier Warehouse, where he meets narrator Alex (also English). Luke and Alex become great friends right away and are soon spending all their free time together. Eventually, Luke falls in love with Nicole, who's from Belgrade—they meet on the street—and the two move in together. Not long thereafter, Alex begins dating Sahra, an American interpreter of Libyan descent, and the four of them become constant companions, taking Christmas and summer vacations together and hanging out over the course of long evenings of food and conversation ("That's how it was at that time: no evening was complete unless everyone had their say about Cassavetes, his directorial style, his limitations, his influence"). But this isn't exactly Jules and Jim: Despite all his talk of art, Luke writes next to nothing and comes nowhere near completing the novel he had come to Paris to begin. After a time, he leaves Paris (and Nicole) altogether and wanders for some years in America and Mexico. Much later, Alex (by now happily married and a father) sees Luke once more in England, but it can never be the same again: "What good does it do anyone, knowing that they once sat with friends in a car and called out the names of cinemas and films, that they ate lunch in a townwhose name they have forgotten? Pointless to a fault, pock-marked with cliches about expatriates and la vie boheme: a chronicle of squandered youth that would have seemed old-hat 50 years ago.

From the Publisher

“Entrancing . . . I can't think of a recent novel that better describes the scarily charged beginning of a love affair.” —The New York Times Book Review

“A beautifully composed rave-generation rhapsody . . . In prose dripping with eroticism and aching with melancholy, Dyer masterfully dissects the vicissitudes of twenty-something love.” —The Sunday Times (London)

“Witty and sexy and experimental.” —Lucinda Ballantyne, The Boston Globe

“Absorbing and darkly romantic . . . However it's labeled--as a novel thick with essay point, and old-fashioned story in postmodern dress, or a fiction that contains its own dissertation--Paris Trance is a haunting work.” —Tom Nolan, San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

Tender is the Night for the Ecstasy Age.” —Tim Pears, author of In the Place of Fallen Leaves

“A beautiful, remarkable book about sad, unremarkable lives.” —Ian Sansom, The Guardian (UK)

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.08(w) x 8.82(h) x 0.72(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

    When Luke came to Paris with the intention of writing a book based on his experiences of living — as he grandly and naively conceived it — `in exile', he was twenty-six years old (`a fine age for a man,' according to Scott Fitzgerald). As far as I know, he made absolutely no progress with this book, abandoning it — except in moments of sudden, drunken enthusiasm — in the instant that he began leading the life intended to serve as its research, its first draft. By the time we met, at the Garnier Warehouse, this book had assumed the status of a passport or travel visa: something which, by enabling him to leave one country and pass into another, had served its purpose and could be, if not discarded, then stored away and ignored. So it's fallen to me to tell his story, or at least the part of it with which I am familiar. Our story, in fact, for by recounting this part of my friend's life I am trying to account for my own, for my need to believe that while something in Luke tugged him away from all that he most loved, from all that made him happiest, it is his life — and not mine — which is exemplary, admirable, even enviable.

    The events recorded here concerned only a handful of people and, quite probably, are of interest only to those people. Especially since `story' is almost certainly the wrong word. Whatever makes events into a story is entirely missing from what follows. It may well be that what urges me to preserve these events in the way I have — the only way I could — is exactly what stops them becoming a story.

    Luke arrived in Paris at one of the worst possible times, in mid-July, when the city was preparing to close down for August. Parisians claim this is the best part of the year — it's easy to park, they say (after a certain amount of time in a city the parking is all you care about) — but for someone who had just arrived it was the worst. The only people around were tourists and those forced to cater for them. Many shops and restaurants were shut and the few that were open closed far earlier than usual. Luke had rented a horrible apartment in the First arrondissement. On paper it had sounded perfect: right in the middle of the city, a few minutes' walk from the Louvre, the Arcades, and other famous tourist sights. Unfortunately that's all there was: museums and tourist sights. The temporal heart of the city, the part that makes it what it is today — as opposed to preserving what had been magnificent in the eighteenth century, or mythically bohemian in the 1920s — had moved east into the Eleventh, close to what had once been the edge of town.

    The apartment itself was a stained place with a sad curtain separating the sleeping area from the living area and nothing to separate the living area from the smells of the cooking area (the cooker itself comprised two hot plates, electric, one of which warmed up only reluctantly). It was the kind of apartment where, if possible, you avoided touching anything. The surfaces of the cooking area — you couldn't call it a kitchenette, let alone a kitchen — were all sticky. Even the worn linoleum floor was sticky. The fridge had never been defrosted and so the ice-box was just that: a box of furry ice in the depths of which, preserved like a thousand-year-old body in a glacier, could just be glimpsed the greenish packaging of a bag of frozen peas. Years of unventilated steam had made the paint in the bathroom bubble and peel. There was mould on the walls. Clothes hung up to dry on the cord above the bath never did. The shower curtain was grimy, the toilet seat warped, possibly dangerous. There were yellow-brown cigarette burns on the flush. To stop the taps dripping Luke had to twist them so hard he expected the pipes to snap. The window in the living area — the only window in the place — had not been washed for a long time. In a few years it would be indistinguishable from the wall. Already it was so grimed with pollution that it seemed to suck light out of the apartment like an extractor. An extent of patterned material had been stretched over the lumpy sofa but as soon as anyone sat down (Luke himself essentially), it became untucked so that the cigarette-scarred arms and blotched back were again revealed. The only stylish touch was provided by a black floor lamp with a halogen bulb and foot-adjustable dimmer switch. By keeping the light turned as low as possible Luke sought to keep at bay the simple truth that it was an ugly sofa in an ugly, sticky apartment in the middle of a neighbourhood that was really a mausoleum. At intervals he was filled with rage — immigrant's rage — that Madame Carachos had had the nerve to rent this dump to him. On arriving in the city he had turned up at her lavish apartment and handed over a wad of bills to cover the rent for the two months they had agreed upon. They had taken a coffee together and then Madame Carachos, like everyone else, had left the city to the tourists, to those who could not afford to leave, to Luke.

    He spent as little time as possible in the apartment. Mainly he walked, and everywhere he walked he glimpsed apartments where he wanted to live, restaurants where he wanted (one day) to eat, bars where he wanted to drink with friends he did not yet have. When he grew tired of walking he went to the cinema. (Ah, cinema, solace of the lonely young men and women of all great cities.) He saw a film a day, sometimes two. He became a connoisseur of the non-time that preceded the films themselves, especially in small cinemas where there were no advertisements or previews, where the audience was made up of four or five people, all of them alone. It was easy to see why, in films, fugitives and wanted men went to the cinema: not just to hide in the dark but because these intervals between performances were out of time. To all intents and purposes you might as well not have existed — and yet, simultaneously, you were acutely conscious of your existence. When the lights faded — always that same sequence of perception: the lights are fading, no they're not, yes they are, yes — and the curtains cranked back slightly to extend the tiny screen, there was always a moment, after the studio logos had been displayed, when the blaze of projected colour lit up the screen like Eden on the first day of creation. Disappointment and boredom often set in very soon afterwards but, for a few minutes at least, Luke's head filled with verdant images of city and sky, landscape and trees, and he believed utterly in the cinema's loneliness-obliterating promise of brightness and colour. If this faded he tried to stay there anyway, tried to become absorbed in the simple clarity, the to-no-avail lucidity of the projected image. As he began to lose interest in the film so the idea of the city began to lure him out of the darkness of the cinema. The sun hovering over buildings, light striking walls and shutters, people moving, cars massing at bridges, the river winding through the centre of the city: all the things he had hoped for from the film he had come to see were actually to be found outside. The cinema was a dungeon from which he could escape into a world of colour and light. He sat for a while longer and then got up and pushed open the exit bar, stunned when the brightness of the street crashed into him again.

    On one occasion he went to the cinema and found that he was the only person there. He was the audience. It was a Kieslowski movie, A Short Film About Love; to Luke it seemed An Interminable Film About Fuck-All and after forty minutes he left. Out in the street he wondered if the screening had been abandoned after his departure; or had the film continued even though no one was there to see it? He walked home, stopping, as he often did, in the Tuileries, which was only a few minutes from his faucet-dripping apartment. In his first month in the city he passed through there almost every afternoon. It was filled with sculptures from a time when, relatively speaking, it was easy to manufacture statues of exceptional power. One was of a naked man, walking, one hand clutching his face in despair. Another was of a man staring at the sun, his hands chained behind his back. Luke's favourite, though, was of a centaur bearing off a woman. He did not know which biblical or mythical characters were depicted but the statues' power was scarcely diminished by his ignorance. The theme in these sculptures was always the same: rapture, punishment, suffering. Passion.

    He walked by the centaur, looked at the veins pulsing in his belly. The fingers of one hand dug into the woman's waist, the other tugged her stone hair. His front hoofs had been broken off and she had lost a hand; her other hand grasped his arm but it was impossible to tell if this was a gesture of resistance or abandonment, if he was rescuing or abducting her, if what was being demonstrated was violation or rapture. If it was a violation then it was a rapturous one. Her missing hand — the way her fingers grasped the sky — would have provided a clue but, as things stood, only a pun remained: she was being carried away. Luke stared at the statue, the centaur rearing up on legs that bore the entire weight of stone, head tilted up to the sun, framed by blue.

    Most of the other statues were also damaged in some way. Many lacked arms or legs, an unfortunate few were headless, all were being rotted by pollution. Rain soaked their naked skin, the sun scorched their backs. Pigeon shit fell on them. In the extremes of passion depicted, however, such indignities barely registered — so there was an implicit consolation in their fate. Essentially, they endured. The figure clutching his head in despair — had he been blinded? — was walking, putting one foot in front of the other. In spite of the immensity of his affliction, he kept going. Mere survival turned punishment into triumph. Condemned by the gods the statues became gods themselves. They protested their sentence even while accepting it. Always, in some way they were resisting or trying to rise above the fate to which they were condemned. The character in chains struggled against gravity, towards the tormenting sky. And yet, at the same time, the fact that they were made of stone, would never free themselves, meant that at some level they were resigned. Yearning and endurance were indistinguishable. They accepted their sentence even while protesting it. They accepted the sun that dazzled them, accepted the darkness to which blindness had condemned them.

    `O light! This is the cry of all the characters who, in classical tragedy, come face to face with their fate.'

    After a week of rain the sky became solid blue. The heat was tremendous and though Luke was consoled by the statues the park itself was a source of torment. Arranged at discreet intervals, young men and women sunbathed, read, dozed. Many of the women wore swimming costumes. The park was like a beach and, as on a beach, Luke was aghast at how beautiful they were, these women. Several came for their lunch hour, stripped down to their swimming costumes, ate their sandwiches, dressed and left. Back at their desks they may have been plain, ordinary, but for that interlude of near-nakedness they were beautiful. Luke walked around the park and then, like a respectful pervert, chose a spot where he could watch a particular woman, could watch her arms, her legs, her breasts, her hair, hoping that she would catch his eye, return his gaze. The park seethed with a potent mix of sex and celibacy. No one could read for more than two pages without looking round at the other readers. Everyone was reading as displacement activity or disguise but this disguise was so effective that to violate it was inconceivable.

    What hell it was, this park! It was so different from the parts of the Seine frequented by cruising gays. Walking along the river on his way to the park Luke always felt uncomfortable, obscurely offended by their stares, by the flagrant desire conveyed by their looks. They made him feel prudish, affronted. Then, when he reached the park and began looking at women with exactly the attention that, a few minutes earlier, had been focused on him, that gay world seemed nothing short of idyllic. He envied the men their common currency of glances and desire. How perfect it would have been to have caught the eye of a woman who was hoping to catch his eye, to have exchanged a few words, to have walked back to his dismal room and ripped each other's clothes off. His thoughts were as crude as a prisoner's but as strong as these desires — far stronger in fact — was his acceptance of the idea that it was not on to disturb a woman when she was pretending to read, that she had a perfect right to sit on her own in a park reading a sexually explicit book and not be pestered by men. A couple of times he had seen men make approaches but the women on whom they had imposed themselves had never seemed flattered or pleased by these attentions. Or almost never. On one occasion he had watched a tanned American sit next to a woman with short blonde hair and a lovely shy laugh. Luke heard that laugh a lot in the next half hour and then he saw them gather up their things and leave together.


Meet the Author

Geoff Dyer is the author of But Beautiful: A Book about Jazz (NPP, 1996) and Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence (NPP, 1997), which was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award. He lives in England.

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