Must Paris reinvent itself?

In this odd book, the Financial Times columnist Simon Kuper narrates his experience as an expatriate ‘uptight northern European’ living in Paris with his family. His American wife, Pamela Duckerman, also a journalist, is the author of Bringing Up Bébé, a culture-shock memoir about having children in Paris and discovering French child-rearing ways, which are often radically at odds with American ideas and habits. Impossible City touches on some of the same territory (Kuper’s French acculturation through his children’s schooling and socialising), but it aims at a more comprehensive portrayal of rapidly evolving 21st-century Paris, warts and all; or, as he puts it, in a phrase that some may find

Shades of Kafka: Open Up, by Thomas Morris, reviewed

Thomas Morris has a knack of writing about ordinary things in an unsettling way and unsettling things in an ordinary way. He described his debut collection of ten stories set in Caerphilly, We Don’t Know What We’re Doing, as ‘realism with a kink’. Open Up, a slimmer second offering of five stories, amps up the Kafka. One is narrated by a seahorse, another by a vampire. Morris’s attitude towards his characters remains central: while displaying their darkest secrets, you sense he’s on their side. Here, the narrators are all male. From a young boy to a thirtysomething, they negotiate masculinity’s contradictory demands, accused of being distant, passive and unambitious. Individually,

The sleepless lives of great writers

To sleep or not to sleep – that is the question the French writer Marie Darrieussecq asks in her latest book, which explores the insomnia that has haunted her for 20 years since the birth of her first child. From that date, she writes, it ‘has attached itself to me like a small ghost’. Darrieussecq is best known for her surreal novel Pig Tales (1996), but Sleepless is an account of her search for a cure to insomnia and the solace she finds in discovering writers such as Franz Kafka (‘the patron saint of insomnia’), Marcel Proust, Georges Perec, Sylvia Plath, Susan Sontag, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Mahmoud Darwish, Haruki Murakami, Aimé

Stop turning dead authors into sex symbols

‘As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a TikTok sensation.’ This is not – blessedly – how Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis begins. But almost exactly a century after his death, the Bohemian writer would be astonished to find that not only had his friend and literary executor Max Brod disobeyed his instructions and published works of his that included The Trial and The Castle, but that he had become, of all things, a social media sensation. It was reported recently that Kafka has become the unlikeliest of sex symbols. One breathless news story announced that ‘for literature-loving Gen Z-ers, the Czech novelist may as well be

A Wiltshire mystery: A Saint in Swindon, by Alice Jolly, reviewed

This novella is suited to our fevered times. Scheduled to coincide with the Swindon spring festival of literature, now cancelled, it reflects the way we are now living. Inspired by the collective imagination of a Swindon book group, Alice Jolly has written a prophetic story. The narrator is Janey, married to the older Phil and running Hunter’s Grove, a B&B in the Swindon suburbs. Phil is an impediment: ‘Retirement — twice as much husband and half as much money.’ Tuesday afternoons mean tea and sex with Len the builder — ‘Tea with Len, Cider with Rosie, what’s the difference?’ Other than that, Janey is visited by her girl friends, among