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Sunday, 20 July 2014

Book review: Inside A Pearl, Edmund White (2014)

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed here another White book about Paris, one published 13 years prior to this one, but they are not similar even though some material from The Flaneur makes its way, changed to fit the setting, into this one. Inside A Pearl is a gossipy memoir that demonstrates the empirical tradition within which Anglosphere authors operate. There are generalisations - some are catty, others are sweet - but they all devolve out of reminiscences of people White met during his 16 years living in the French capital. Rather than being a book merely about people, as opposed to a book about pure ideas, Inside A Pearl is a book in which ideas evolve out of discussions of people.

I felt like I was standing in front of someone with a machine gun that only shot bullets made from Turkish delight.

There is however a structure in this very literary memoir, and as the pages wind down there is another lover - White must have been a very sweet man to have attracted so many men into his life. He divulges attitudes toward other objects too, of course, not the least of which being the leading lights of literary London, the social lights of Paris, the lights of Berlin's movie industry, the lights of New York's gay community. White's life is a life lit by candles held by posterity for its better scrutiny of what transpired. Through all of this, however, is White's friendship for MC, a woman who befriended him when he moved to Paris and who remained a friend throughout his sojourn.

The book also has a soft landing but there are plenty of passages where the treatment meted out to others is rather candid. An author well-known to many but ignored by probably more in his homeland might have more need to find a resort in a foreign country, even if he was a stringer for several magazines back home. Such a writer may even attempt to become an expert on France, or at least on Paris, thus curtailing debate. In my mind, having read White in my youth, he hardly has to prove his worth, but I'm glad that he has taken the time required to turn out this rather long book. We are all richer for the observations that have been captured in this format.

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