Skip to main content

Review: Memoirs of Montparnasse, by John Glassco


Pages: 236
Original date of publication: 1970
My edition: 2007 (NYRB Classics)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Joseph Fox bookstore, Philadelphia, February 2012

In 1928, a young Canadian named John Glassco set out for Paris with his best friend. The two set out to explore all that the city had to offer: the cafes, bars, and brasseries that the Americans of the Lost Generation would have been familiar with as well. Glassco set out to have a literary career and along the way rubbed shoulders with some of the greats (at one point in this memoir a man walks into a bar and someone calls him “Ernie;” it took me a while to realize that yes, it was that Ernie).

Glassco wrote this memoir as truth, although it’s not completely factual. For example, Kay Boyle and Djuna Barnes, both important figures of the literary expatriates of Paris at the time, receive new names; and there is a certain sense of scintillism to Glassco’s account—probably because the author was so young. Glassco manages to drop names like bricks (at one point in this memoir a man walks into a bar and someone calls him “Ernie;” it took me a while to realize that yes, it was that Ernie).and brag shamelessly (especially about insulting Gertrude Stein to her face and getting kicked out of one of her parties, but I thought that was actually quite funny. His description of her: "a rhomboidal woman dressed in a floor-length gown apparently made of some kind of burlap, she gave the impression of absolute irrefragability… it was impossible to conceive of her lying down”).

Again, though, the tone of the book was probably a result of being so young at the time the memoir took place and was written (18-22). Glassco ran out of money along the way and certainly ruined his health, but he enjoyed every moment of his stay—despite, among other things, being treated for VD and repeated letter to Come Home from his father, who wanted him to be a lawyer. He describes his lifestyle with ease: encounters with prostitutes, affairs with famous writers, work as a pornographer’s model, and homosexual encounters are all detailed. Throughout the book, Glassco is carefree and hedonistic; unconcerned with responsibility; he flits through the landscape of literary 1920s Paris without a care. His story is entertaining, but not wholly believable.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972 Originally published: 1944 My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press) How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…

Review: Jane Austen's Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye

Pages: 667 Original date of publication: 2011 My copy: 2011 (Oxford University Press) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, April 2013
This is a compilation of many of Jane Austen’s letters, most of them sent to her sister Cassandra between 1796 and 1817, the year of her death. Although many of Austen’s letters were destroyed by her sister in order to preserve the family reputation, the collection contains over 160 letters in which Austen gives her sister details about her life in Chawton—as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse of what was going through her mind as she was writing her novels (especially the novel that was to become Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions). There are other letters here, too, giving advice to her niece and professional correspondence to publishers—as well as a couple of letters that were written by Cassandra Austen after Jane’s death.
To the sisters, the letters acted in the way that phone calls do today; Austen’s news is all about pe…

Review: Midnight in Peking, by Paul French

Pages: 259 Original date of publication: 2013 My copy: 2013 (Penguin) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Phoenix bookstore, May 2013
In January 1937, the body of a young British girl, Pamela Werner, was found near Peking’s Fox Tower. Although two detectives, one British and the other Chinese, spent months on the case, the case was never solved completely, and the case was forgotten in the wake of the invasion of the Japanese. Frustrated, Pamela’s father, a former diplomat, tried to solve the crime. His investigation took him into the underbelly of Peking society and uncovered a secret that was worse than anything he could have imagined.
At first, I thought that this would be a pretty straightforward retelling of a true crime, but what Paul French (who spent seven years researching the story) reveals in this book is much more than that. Foreign society in Peking in the 1930s was stratified, with the British colonials at the top and the White Russian refugees at the bottom, but…