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4.7 out of 5 stars
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4.7 out of 5 stars


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This book contains ten short stories by the great Marcel Ayme, all of them new translations by Sophie Lewis. The collection starts off with Ayme's most famous tale 'The Man Who Waled Through Walls', which is about a civil servant who finds that he can walk through any wall. Bored with his mundane life he sets himself up as a master criminal, but like all things, it has to end. Along with this you have tales on a woman who can split herself into multiple copies and thus carry on affairs and get married all round the world, a novel approach to tax collecting, the problems that can arise when trying to get into Heaven, and the havoc that can come about with time, and the fact that it isn't constant.

Reading these you can see the effect of the Second World War and the occupation of France had on the author as this does show through. All the tales are fantastical to a degree but these do show a lot of pathos, and you really get a feel for the characters and their situations. Ayme doesn't hold back when taking something ludicrous and following it through to its logical conclusion, which gives all these tales a certain sense of fun. Continually playing with your expectations and showing how absurd things can become this is a real pleasure to read.
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on 11 August 2012
Ayme's stories begin with unusual situations - a man who can walk through walls, a woman who can exist simultaneously in more than one place - and work out the logical consequences. Mostly these are funny, and then often unexpectedly sad or horrifying, and then funny again. The stories were published in France during the second world war, and endless continuation of the war is usually in the background. The writing reminded me of Robert Walser or Kafka - the voice is normal not writerly, and can flit around and feel like normal thinking. it's very nicely translated. If you like Walser of Kafka or Borges or even Beckett I expect you'll be pleased like me to find Ayme's writing.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 September 2012
The title is that of the first of a set of mostly surrealist short stories in which a man can really walk through walls, and we see the uses to which he puts this gift. A beautifully judged story of just the right length.

This cannot be said of the next one, entitled "Sabine Women", is about a woman called Sabine who has the ability at will to multiply herself with identities that live in totally different locations. Moreover, each of the likenesses has the capacity to do the same, so in the end there are sixty-seven thousand look-alikes all over the world, each of them in some way linked to the experiences of any one of them. Not only does their ability to multiply run out of control (like the broom in the Sorcerer's Apprentice), but so, I think, does the story itself, which is wild and much too long.

The title of the next story is "Tickets in Time". In this one the government has a way (unexplained) of temporarily killing unproductive citizens - they disappear from the land of the living for a number of days each month. They are given tickets to indicate the number of days docked each month, the number depending on the degree of their unproductivity. They come back to life when the new month begins. What would be the effect of such a scheme?

"The Problem of Summertime": if governments can add an hour to summer time, why stick at one hour? In 1942 the Vatican gave relief to a world weary of the war by ordaining that time should advance by seventeen years. What happens to a Frenchman when he suddenly finds himself living seventeen years later with the knowledge of what happened in the interval? And after he has lived for some time in that future, what happens when, for some unaccountable reason, he suddenly finds himself back in 1942?

There is nothing surrealistic about the next story, "The Proverb", a painful story of paternal bullying, with an unexpectedly charitable ending.

"Poldevian Legend": the wrong people are given precedence in entering Heaven through the Pearly Gates.

"The Wife Collector" is about a tax-collector who is in arrears with his own taxes. The title gives you a clue to this the zaniest of all the stories in the book.

"The Seven League Boots": a gang of young schoolboys are obsessed by a pair of boots which a weird junk-shop owner has displayed in his window with the label that they are Seven League Boots. Until the last paragraph this story is less supernatural than the others, but examines gang-relationships and the touching relationship of one of the gang to his mother.

"The Bailiff": another story involving the Pearly Gates: when a bailiff approaches the Pearly Gates, St Peter and God disagree whether a bailiff should be cast into Hell, and he is given his life back so that - he is told - by the time of his next death the evidence will be clearer one way or the other. But when the time comes, God and St Peter are still at odds.

"While Waiting": The opening sentence of this story; "During the 1939-1972 war, in Montmartre, at the door of the grocer on rue Caulincourt, there was a queue of fourteen people who, having become friendly, decided never to part again." For what was there to go home for? They explain the misery of their lives in war-time, mostly at great length. The war seems never-ending, and so does this story.
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on 12 May 2013
This is a varied collection of 10 short stories that are well worth your attention.
Others have commented upon content so I will not dwell on that aspect.
For me, the attraction is that as you read each story, you will probably begin to develop ideas about the direction in which you are heading.
Beware! The author will, equally probably, turn your ideas upside down.
One tale may shock you as it develops; it is not until the very last sentence that you may be obliged to move into a rethink of something which you assumed that you more or less understood.
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on 14 October 2012
This is a wonderful book for those who have a certain way of seeing the world. The stories appear to be in the realm of the surreal, but if one believes what scientists tell us - that the world is a very curious place indeed - then what happens in these tales is similar to the odd happenings in the world of quantum reality.
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on 28 January 2013
This new translation of Marcel Ayme's collection of short stories was a surprising delight. From the bitter-sweet and sudden ending of the title tale, to the weird and wonderful concept of the ubiquitous lady and her thousands of sisters across the world Ayme provides the reader with plenty to enjoy and admire.

The book is certainly of its time and place, with the impact of the First and Second World Wars on the pysche of France and coming through in a number of places. A number of the stories are also rooted in French life of the 1940s and 50s, which then provides the author with a springboard for his flights of fancy.

Definitely worth a go and I really enjoyed it.
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on 29 May 2013
This book recommended to me by a dear friend
Margaret Crisp, is a delight, both in its physical printing and design, and in the absorbing stories by Marcel Ayme. A modern statue of a man half-walking out through a wall at the spot in Paris where the title story ends is a famous landmark. Marcel Ayme is a writer to be admired - and I say that as the author of eight novels and two books of short stories myself. I have a photograph of my friend Margaret Crisp in Paris, standing beside the staute mentioned above. Well worth its modest price as a collectors item for those who love fiction. - Anthony Grey
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on 18 November 2013
I can't comment on this translation as I have only read these beguiling stories in French, but I have fallen in love with Marcel Ayme. The stories are wise, funny and moving. Most consist of a quirky, fantastical premise (magic realism long before it was called that!) and often offer clever dead-pan satire of the pit-falls of life and especially of trying to survive the war in occupied France. And they are often laugh-out-loud funny.
Highly recommended.
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on 10 February 2013
I don't think Aymes' work is much known in the Engish speaking world. And yet this is a writer hailed by Simenon as the greatest writer of his time. I can see why. Ayme understands and explores human nature through surrealism / magic realism in the way that Simenon did through his detective stories. He often takes a weird situation and then uses logic and his understanding of human nature to take it to a natural but often unexpected climax.
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on 8 July 2013
Ayme's humour is gentle but dark and it does what the best humour does -- it points to the frailties of human nature.

His work might be described as like James Thurber's except Thurber doesn't warp time and circumstance in quite the same way -- and is probably a blunter instrument for that.
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