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on 16 February 2001
The tone of this lovely book is set from the start. I laughed when I read the first sentence, I smiled at the second, and by the end of the first chapter I was already packing my bags (metaphorically), boarding the train, and longing to be in Paris.
Edmund White is an accomplished writer who lived in Paris for fifteen years, from about 1983, before returning to his native USA. If he was in love with the French (which seems likely) it was never to the extent to being blinded to their flaws. Taking the notion of the Flaneur, the attentive urban ambler, as his inspiration he takes a gentle and informative stroll through some of the lesser known byways of the French capital, and French history, pausing to point out curious features and to cast light along the way.
Somehow, without ever forcing the pace, he manages to explore art, politics, and sex. He discusses the paradoxical attitudes of the French to race discrimination and the appallingly inadequate response of the state to AIDs in the 1980s. He examines the contrasts between the American and French attitudes to fashion. He ponders on flirtatiousness - how it cannot be avoided in Paris and how it cannot be attempted in New York. He muses upon the creation and endless re-invention of cities, . He writes perceptively about jazz music between the wars, including the danse sauvage of Josephine Baker and its effect upon (amongst others) Marshall Tito, and he struggles (as must we all) with the precise distinction between monarchist and royalist that so exercised the proprietor of his local café. There are many reasons for reading this book. One is that it is beautifully written (it helps). Another is that, without ever losing the objectivity of the foreigner, the author manages to empathise with his subject. When I finished reading it I wanted to start again.
The publishers, Bloomsbury, are to be complimented on producing a first class book. The Flaneur is intended to be the first in a series entitled The Writer in the City. If subsequent volumes match the quality if the first then there is a great deal to look forward to.
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VINE VOICEon 14 August 2002
Highly recommended. Despite the heading, I did not really like Paris. When I visited Paris first, I lived in Zurich and from the Swiss orderliness to the bohemian French territory was a systemic shock to me. But over time I have read a few books about Paris and am now eagerly waiting for my next trip.
The Flaneur literally means a loiterer but purposeless this book is not. Loitering is also a slower description of the pace of this book. The visually driven descriptions of Paris intersperse beautifully with the history of how Paris came to be like it is. Through centuries of music, art and literature. The author is not just well-researched, he also has the qualification of being in love with Paris. So read it, I say and fall in love with Paris.
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on 19 August 2012
When I ordered this book I expected a travel tale similar to Bill Bryson or Paul Theroux. It is everything but that. It's hardly a travel tale at all as the author only mentions a few selected places in Paris so that he can write about artists (mostly) who have lived there. The back cover advertises the author as a stroller who ambles in the streets of Paris, but that is only a metaphorical stroll. There is no walking, no exploration, no description, and almost no personal impression on what the author actually saw.

Checking again the reviews after reading the book, I wonder how many reviewers have actually read it. The tone is not funny, but serious. And there are no visual descriptions, at least not of anything that still exists or that can be visited.

The book is essentially a gay American man's very personal account on the city's cultural history and the Parsisian lives of a few (gay) artists. First I was taken aback and almost tossed aside the book, but it turned out to be relatively interesting because it is a side of French society about which I knew very little.

The six chapters are all very different. Chapter One introduces Parisian high society through fashion and the arts, as well as a few French writers (Colette, Baudelaire, Sartre) and the places where they lived. Chapter Two is the multicultural Paris of Blacks and Arabs, quickly focusing on Black American jazz players in Paris, and a comparison of racism in France with the USA. Chapter Three is about Jewish Paris and a history of the Camondo family. Chapter Four is about two places: Hôtel de Lauzun (closed to the public), where the poets Charles Baudelaire and Théophile Gautier lived for a while, and the Gustave Moreau Museum, dedicated to that almost forgotten Symbolist painter (that the author doesn't seem to recommend anyway). Chapter Five is about gay Paris and the different attitude of the French and Americans gay community to AIDS. Chapter Six is about the French monarchy and the modern pretenders to the throne (the Count of Paris and Louis XX). The 16-page-long 'Further Reading' section is almost a chapter in its own right.
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on 22 March 2009
With The Flaneur what Edmund White gives us is essentially his guide through the city of Paris. By actual definition a flaneur is someone who walks the streets and observes life as it passes, watching the world go by in all its wonderment. Now if this (like it does with me) describes you and you are indeed someone who loves to stroll and people watch this is a book for you.

What Edmund White has as an edge is the perspective of someone who has lived in Paris for years and knows the ins and outs of its history backstreets and where those who know Paris like the back of their hands go to. It's like a much more personal and interesting Rough Guide in some ways, not that I am saying rough guides aren't well written. I just think this has an edge in terms of being a much more personal stroll through the streets.

Not only are you told the hotspots to go and where to visit for history that isn't in the Louvre or on the tour guides, you are given various histories of Paris. The book is quite short (I wish I had had this when I went to Paris last year) so is perfect to take with you should you go away but is also incredibly easy to read and wonderfully written. There are only six chapters in the book and each one seems to be an essay on a specific side to Paris. If the word `essay' makes it sound like its boring then ignore the word because it is far from it.

The first subject rightly so is simply just Paris and a kind of love letter to it. There are also chapters on the immigration of all different nationalities coming into Paris and making it the racial and cultured mix that it now is where as once it was a predominantly white city. I found this chapter fascinating especially in terms of the black soldiers in the war which made me think of part of the story in Hillary Jordan's wonderful `Mudbound'. Part of the book is dedicated to the literal `gay Paris' and looks at that side of the city and its flamboyant and yet very dark history. My favourite parts of the book were actually the literary history of the city. White wrote a biography of Genet and he is mentioned in this book too alongside the stories of writers like Colette, Balzac, Flaubert, Bechet and many, many more.

All in all if you enjoy White's work anyway you will love this book especially as it gives you even more insight into his life. If you are a fan of Paris then this is also definitely a book for you. I would recommend this to anyone who loves the history of cities, watching life pass by, literary history, travel and wonderful writing. It was a wonderfully surprising treat to read.
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on 5 February 2015
Brilliant book. Highly recommended.
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on 11 July 2008
This is a very disappointing book. It is subtitled "a stroll through the paradoxes" of Paris but there is very little of the contemporary city in it. Nor is there much strolling. For example, Edmund White starts a chapter on the Marais district but quickly digresses to the Jewish figures who lived near the Bois de Bologne in the 19th century then a long explication of the Dreyfus case. All of this can be read in any French history book and none of it is particularly Parisien. Likewise, his chapter on gay cruising has limited appeal - why do homosexual writers think they have to tell us the details of their sex lives which White himself admits most people will find "pathetic and sordid"? He gives a detailed bibliography at the end which confesses that he has plundered most of this from other people's books which makes it seem very like a hack job done without much care. There is little, if anything, here for anyone wanting to research before a trip to Paris. An up-to-date guidebook would be far more useful.
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on 7 October 2005
Quite simply the wonderful, slightly eccentric and often daring memories of Edmund White's time in Paris.
The art of the Flaneur may be on the wane, but here in this book White jsut makes you want to walk and walk this lovely city.
Lots of great stories, pen pictures of fascinating people and the ultimate explanation of how Americans just can't be flaneurs!
Simply wonderful.
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on 30 August 2014
Good, but dated
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on 12 February 2009
This short book's major part is about gay Paris. It has a few interesting bits on other subjects too, but it's mainly homosexual- oriented.
In my opinion it should have been advertised for what it is.
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on 25 September 2001
A pretty good introduction to the history of Paris and some of its famous figures. If you're not too familiar with the city, this is a great place to start, since White is an excellent writer. It would have been nice, though, to hear more on what it was like to actually live in Paris as a present-day expatriate. Plus, apparently no one British has ever done anything worth mentioning there (and I'm American, so it's not like I'm partiuclarly biased that way).
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