This is just so different to anything else I’ve ever read. Paris was
hit by a cataclysmic disaster engineered during World War II, wherein
surrealist art comes alive with consequences obverse to humanity. The
city becomes a sealed-in war zone.
[Massive spoiler coming up; if you are intending to read this book for
the first time you really should skip past this chapter.] It is
essentially the travails of a man and new-found companion through the
unruly streets, looking for, and eventually finding, a way out. But the
journey is astonishing, and the ending amazing: an obscure painting with
no face moves through the provinces and empties all the properties of
people, leaving a tidy emptiness behind. It is Adolf Hitler’s
self-portrait! It turns out he was a rubbish painter, couldn’t do faces
and instead painted cityscapes of empty houses.
I think the only slight downer is that the man is accompanied through
his journeys by a manifestation of a work called the Exquisite Corpse: a
collage of body parts and machinery roughly approximating a grotesque man.
This thing is at first really menacing, and then becomes quite lame and
follows the twosome around like a silent dog on an invisible tether. This
is a very strange relationship, not really developed in the text and kind
of drags like an anchor through the story. The manifestation does play a
small part in the proceedings, but not enough to justify the gravitas it
carries and the lack of development of this plot device makes it feel like
It is a strange and wonderful book, and made all the more astonishing
by the author’s afterword in which he describes the strange events that
happened to him, in real life, that led to the creation of the book as a
legacy of someone he met once and chatted to for a whole day, reciting the
outline of the novel.