Douglas Kennedy: Woman in the Fifth

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Douglas Kennedy Woman in the Fifth
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    Woman in the Fifth
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    Arrow Books
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    Современная проза / на английском языке
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Woman in the Fifth: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Douglas Kennedy's new novel demonstrates once again his talent for writing serious popular fiction. and were both bestsellers in paperback. That was the year my life fell apart, and that was the year I moved to Paris. When Harry Ricks arrives in Paris on a bleak January morning he is a broken man. He is running away from a failed marriage and a dark scandal that ruined his career as a film lecturer in a small American university. With no money and nowhere to live, Harry swiftly falls in with the city's underclass, barely scraping a living while trying to finish the book he'd always dreamed of writing. A chance meeting with a mysterious woman, Margit Kadar, with whom Harry falls in love, is his only hope of a brighter future. However, Margit isn't all she seems to be and Harry soon has to make a decision that will alter his life forever.

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The rain had quieted down into an insidious drizzle. I didn’t have an umbrella, so I marched back up to the Jasmin metro station and bought a ticket. I got on the first train that arrived, not sure where I was heading. This was only my second trip to Paris. The last time I had been here was in the mid-eighties, the summer before I entered graduate school. I spent a week in a cheap hotel off the boulevard Saint-Michel, haunting the cinemas in that part of town. At the time, there was a little cafe called Le Reflet opposite a couple of backstreet movie houses on the rue … what the hell was its name? Never mind. The place was cheap and I seemed to remember that they were open for breakfast, so …

A quick study of the metro map on the carriage wall, a change of trains at Michel-Ange Molitor, and twenty minutes later I emerged at Cluny-La Sorbonne. Though it had been more than twenty years since I’d last stepped out of this metro station, I never forget my way to a cinema — so I instinctually turned up the boulevard Saint-Michel and into the rue des Ecoles. The sight of the marquee of Le Champo — advertising a De Sica and a Douglas Sirk festival on their two screens — provoked a small smile. When I reached its shuttered doors and peered up the rue Champollion — the name of the street I had forgotten — and saw two other cinemas lining its narrow wet pavement, I thought, Fear not, the old haunts still exist.

But at nine in the morning, none of them were yet open, and Cafe Le Reflet was also shuttered. Fermeture pour Noel.

I returned to the boulevard Saint-Michel and started walking towards the river. Paris after Christmas was truly dead. The only working places nearby were all the fast-food joints that now dotted the streets, their neon fronts blotting the architectural line of the boulevard. Though I was desperate for shelter from the rain, I still couldn’t bring myself to spend my first hours in Paris huddled in a McDonald’s. So I kept walking until I came to the first proper cafe that was open. It was called Le Depart, located on a quay fronting the Seine. Before reaching it, I passed in front of a nearby newspaper stand and scored a copy of Pariscope — the ‘What’s On’ guide for the city and my cinephile bible back in 1985.

The cafe was empty. I took a table by a window and ordered a pot of tea against the internal chill I felt coming on. Then I opened Pariscope and began combing the cinema listings, planning my viewing for the week ahead. As I noted the John Ford retrospective at the Action Ecoles and all the Ealing comedies at Le Reflet Medicis I felt something that had been absent in my life for months: pleasure. A small, fleeting reminder of what it was like not to think about … well, everything that had so preoccupied me since …

No, let’s not go there. Not today, anyway.

I pulled out a little notebook and my fountain pen. It was a lovely old red Parker, circa l925: a fortieth birthday gift, two years ago, from my ex-wife when she was still my wife. I uncapped the pen and starting scribbling down a schedule. It was a blueprint for the next six days that would give me space in the mornings to set up my life here, and spend all other available waking time in darkened rooms, staring up at projected shadows. ‘What is it that people love most about a cinema? ‘I used to ask my students in the introductory course I taught every autumn. ‘Could it be that, paradoxically, it is a place outside of life in which imitations of life take place? As such, maybe it’s a hiding place in which you cannot really hide because you’re looking at the world you’ve sought to escape.’

But even if we know we cannot really hide from things, we still try. Which is why some of us jump planes to Paris on forty-eight hours’ notice, fleeing all the detritus we’ve left behind.

I nursed the pot of tea for an hour, shaking my head when the waiter dropped by to ask if I wanted anything else. I poured out a final cup. The tea had gone cold. I knew I could have sat in the cafe for the rest of the morning without being hassled. But if I just continued to loiter without intent there, I would have felt like a deadbeat for hogging a table all that time … even though there was only one other customer in the cafe.

I glanced out the window. The rain was still falling. I glanced at my watch. Five hours to go until check-in. There was only one solution. I reopened Pariscope and found that there was a big cinema complex over at Les Halles which started showing movies at nine every morning. I put away my notebook and pen. I grabbed my coat. I tossed four euros down on the table and headed out, making a quick dash for the metro. It was two stops to Les Halles. I followed the signs to something called ‘Le Forum’, a bleak concrete shopping center, sunk deep into the Paris earth. The cinema had fifteen screens and was like any American multiplex in some nowhere suburban mall. All the big US Christmas blockbusters were on show, so I chose a film by a French director whose work I didn’t know. There was a screening in twenty minutes, which meant first sitting through a series of inane advertisements.

Then the film started. It was long and talky — but I followed most of it. It was largely set in some slightly rundown, but hip corner of Paris. There was a thirty-something guy called Mathieu who taught philosophy at a lycee, but (surprise, surprise) was trying to write a novel. There was his ex-wife Mathilde — a semi-successful painter who lived in the shadow of her father, Gerard. He was a famous sculptor, now cohabiting with his acolyte, Sandrine. Mathilde hated Sandrine because she was ten years her junior. Mathieu certainly didn’t like Philippe, the info-tech business executive that Mathilde had been sleeping with. Mathilde, however, liked the lavish way Philippe treated her, but found him intellectually exasperating (‘The man has never even read Montaigne …‘).

The film began with Mathieu and Mathilde sitting in her kitchen, drinking coffee and smoking and talking. Then it cut to Sandrine who was posing naked for Gerard in his country atelier while Bach played on his stereo. They took a break from this modeling session. She put on some clothes. They went into his big country kitchen and drank coffee and smoked and talked. Then there was a scene in some expensive hotel bar. Mathilde was meeting Philippe. They sat at a banquette and drank champagne and smoked and talked …

On and on it went. Talk. Talk. More talk. My problems. His problems. Your problems. And, by the way, la vie est inutile. After around an hour, I lost the battle I was fighting against jet lag and lack of sleep. I passed out. When I came to, Mathilde and Philippe were sitting in a hotel bar, drinking champagne and smoking and … Hang on, hadn’t they done this scene already? I tried to keep my eyes open. I didn’t succeed. And then …

What the fuck?

The opening credits were rolling again — and Mathieu and Mathilde were sitting in her kitchen, drinking coffee and smoking and talking. And …

I rubbed my eyes. I lifted my arm. I tried to focus on my watch, but my vision was blurred. Eventually the digital numbers came into view: 4 … 4 … 3.

Four forty-three?

Oh Jesus, I’d been asleep since …

My mouth was parched, toxic. I swallowed and tasted bile. My neck was rigid, nearly immobile. I touched my shirt. It was soaked through with sweat. Ditto my face. I put my fingers to my forehead. Intense heat radiated from my brow. I put my feet on the floor and tried to stand up. I didn’t succeed. Every corner of my body now ached. My body temperature plunged — the tropical fever turning into a near-Arctic chill. My knees caved a bit as I attempted to stand up again, but I managed some sort of forward propulsion that moved me out of the aisle toward the door.

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