LEFT BANK WALTZ: THE AUSTRALIAN BOOKSHOP IN PARIS
Review by Carol Middleton published in Australian Book Review, June/July 2006
Elaine Lewis established and ran the Australian Bookshop in Paris from 1996 to 1998. It acted as an outlet in France for Australian books, a nexus for travelling Australian writers and a cultural hub in the Parisian arts scene. This is the story of the bookshop in its heyday, before Lewis returned to Australia and the bookshop retired to an online existence.
This non-fiction work has a dual appeal. Firstly, although written in the historic present for dramatic effect, it is a precise record of an epoch in Australian literary history. It chronicles the Australian writers who were entertained by Lewis and were invited to hold rencontres or informal readings. Secondly, it is the inspiring memoir of a woman who, in later life, decided to open a bookshop on the other side of the world. The ten years it took to research the project are testament to her dedication, energy and passion. There is a third appeal. The book acts as a guide to the quartiers of Paris, their history, restaurants and cafes, and the arts community within the city. It reaffirms the generally held opinion that the arts are an integral part of French life and conversation.Although the book is a record of literary history, it is not a literary work. Lewis is primarily a musician and has spent most of her life in music education. She writes in a clear and unadorned style, but her sentences are long and replete with relative clauses. Her prose does not have the power to evoke the spirit of the venue and the characters that played a part in it. She adheres to the facts, is not a gossip, and her anger only flares in the face of the French bureaucrats who close down the shop. If her writing lacks passion, her life obviously does not. That is what makes Left Bank Waltz compelling reading
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