Fiction: “Paris is a party, Paris is a ghost”

In Mavis Gallant’s 1953 big short story “The Other Paris”, a woman working for a US government agency abandons her romantic expectations of the City of Light for decidedly more seedy realities: boring office work, gloomy weather, crumbling apartment buildings and penniless war refugees. . It is the counter-story of expatriates that has always rubbed shoulders with the French fairy tale, in which self-discovery is a long process of disenchantment. David Hoon Kim’s debut, “Paris is a party, Paris is a ghost” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 240 pages, $ 26), is the latest opus of its kind, a novel preoccupied with 21st century subjects of identity, alienation and trauma.

Its narrator is Henrik Blatand, a man of Japanese descent who was adopted as a baby by a family in Denmark. Marked with a feeling of impostor syndrome – because of his appearance, he feels like a liar whenever he tells someone he is Danish – Henrik seems compulsively driven to deepen his estrangement into himself. settling in France to study Danish literature. The Other Paris that he inhabits is filled with prowlers and similar recluses, people who, because of their race or the “invisible burden” of some kind of grief, are incapable of attachments and destined to wander the world. town like ghosts.

Henrik’s narrative, spanning more than a decade, is divided into halting episodes about friends and lovers whose roles in his life tend to be spectral and short-lived. The brief relationship that everyone else is organized around is with a depressed Japanese girl named Fumiko, who locks herself in her room in the student quarters of the Sorbonne and commits suicide. His absence turns out to be more real than anyone who meets Henrik. (The most gripping chapter of the book is an outlier narrated by a medical student dissecting Fumiko’s corpse.) Henrik works and abandons his thesis and embarks on a career as a translator, but even in his busiest times, he is “sometimes overwhelmed by an unfathomable sadness, an almost exhilarating loneliness, as if I were the last of my kind.

From this ghostly Paris emerges a sensitive, vague and often frightfully inconsistent novel. His frustrations illustrate a crisis of the subject and of the form of a literature which considers trauma as the determining quality of the personality. As ugly or disappointing as it is, Mavis Gallant’s deromantized Paris is tactile and interesting, teeming with personalities. But because Mr. Kim’s is characterized by a sense of unbreakable detachment, it is doomed to remain unrealized, a dark backdrop for his sad hero’s cycle of fear and regret.

It might as well be obvious that an age concerned with traumatic memory will be sensitive to pharmaceutical solutions. In the alternate reality of Meredith Westgate’s novel “The Shimmering State” (Atria, 306 pages, $ 27), a controversial new drug called Memoroxin has been created to treat these psychic injuries at the source. Capitalizing on laser technology that can map personal memories, the pills can then restore those memories to the patient (for people with Alzheimer’s disease, for example) or return modified and sanitized versions (for people with Alzheimer’s disease). ‘severe PTSD). Inevitably, however, “Mem” hit the streets and became a chic brand-name drug, allowing its users to experience a consciousness other than their own.

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