The Uncanny Reader at The Booksmith

April 21st, 2015 § 0 comments


Last month I had the pleasure of giving a reading at San Francisco’s The Booksmith for The Uncanny Reader, in the company of editor Marjorie Sandor and fellow contributor Namwali Serpell.


Marjorie Sandor shared some etymological musings on the word “uncanny,” a version of which can be found at Weird Fiction Review. Namwali read from her Best American 2009 story “Muzungu,” and I read from one of two translations in the collection, “The Puppets” by Jean-Christophe Duchon-Doris, the author’s English-language debut. Here’s an excerpt:

Outside, it started raining even harder. Torrents of water hammering the tin roofs hid a quiet, almost mechanical background hum. And as you were both suddenly solemn, deeply focused, still—from time to time you merely brushed back an unruly lock of hair, while he, sparing with his motions, let his head sway to the ostensible rhythms of reading, turning the page only with infinite caution—you might have been mistaken for a pair of clockwork creatures. Stark light from the sky lit your faces, seeming to freeze time, while your springs ever so gently wound down like figures on a music box.

As the story was drawn from a collection of stories that chronicle the underside of Baron Haussmann’s renovations of Paris, I gave a brief historical slide show with period maps locating the story’s action, and told a slightly off-color translation story. You had to be there.

Trained as a lawyer, Jean-Christophe Duchon-Doris (1960 – ) is a presiding judge at the administrative court in his native Marseilles. Among the dozen books to his name are several popular historical mysteries featuring, in one instance (Les Nuits blanches du chat botté – The Sleepless Nights of Puss-in-Boots), a serial killer copycatting the fairytale of Charles Perrault, and in another (Le Cuisinier de Talleyrand: Meurtre au congrès de Vienne – Talleyrand’s Chef: Murder at the Congress of Vienna), Napoleon’s chef Antonin Carême, who is credited with inventing haute cuisine, as well as a trilogy featuring the royal prosecutor Guillaume de Lautaret and his witty wife Delphine d’Orbelet.

He has also written three short story collections, with a fourth on the way. The conceit of his Goncourt-winning second collection short stories, Les lettres du Baron(Juillard, 1994; The Baron’s Letters), is that its interconnected tales are based on letters that never made it to their addressees, because Baron Haussmann’s renovations had destroyed so much of Paris.

Also, be sure to check out the conversation with Marjorie Sandor at Weird Fiction Review!


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