Friday, 20 July 2012
Hype and the World of Books
In Paris recently I paid the visit of a pilgrim to rue Bernard Palissy on the Left Bank which is the HQ of Les Editions de Minuit, one of the finest French publishers with a small but always distinguished output. Rue Bernard Palissy is a little back street blocked when I walked into it by a large van which was unloading into the rear of a building, cancelling any hint of chic. Minuit's offices consist of a small window which was modestly featuring Jean-Philippe Toussaint's Autoportrait (à l'étranger) and not much else. Toussaint's characteristically spare and elegant book of impressions of Japan, Berlin, Prague etc has just been re-issued as a paperback in the "Collection 'double'" series. The mark of this publisher has always been an austere minimalism of design, plain white covers, no illustration, no author photographs, no prolix blurbs etc. The tacit assumption is that all one needs is to read the book and all one learns about the author is contained in one sentence: "Jeanne-Philippe Toussaint est né à Bruxelles en 1957. Il est écrivan et cinéaste." For the paperback a concession has been made and we have a discreet one line quote from the Libération reviewer and, on the cover, a photograph! It is a reflection in a shop window of the author in Tokyo taking a snap of himself in the rain under a transparent polythene umbrella. But that is as far as it goes.
To the left of the display window is a battered maroon painted door (see picture) which merely says "enter without ringing". No glitz, no life size cardboard cutouts of Samuel Beckett, no potted plants, no Sloaney receptionists. Just a small house which publishes exquisite fiction (too little of it translated into English) and leaves it at that.