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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Last Days of New Paris

China Miéville

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To purchase The Last Days of New Paris

Title: The Last Days of New Paris
Author: China Miéville
Genre: Novel
Written: 2016
Length: 205 pages
Availability: The Last Days of New Paris - US
The Last Days of New Paris - UK
The Last Days of New Paris - Canada
Los últimos días de Nueva París - España

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Our Assessment:

B : creative take; quite enjoyable

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 17/2/2017 James Lovegrove
The Guardian . 17/2/2017 Stephen Poole
Locus . 8/2016 Gary K. Wolfe
The LA Times B- 11/8/2016 Ezra Glinter
New Statesman . 12/3/2017 Michael Moorcock
The Spectator . 25/2/2017 Stuart Kelly
TLS . 14/4/2017 Lucy Dallas

  From the Reviews:
  • "Treading the line between beauty and horror, history and fantasy, Miéville filters a clash of art and philistinism through the medium of wartime spy fiction." - James Lovegrove, Financial Times

  • "It is quite a feat to narrate all this in a terse, naturalistic style that is neither overtly silly nor po-faced. (...) (O)verall the effect is exhilaratingly precise and serious, as though Albert Camus had rewritten Raiders of the Lost Ark. (...) What there isn’t much of is dramatic suspense, since, when things get hairy, the characters reveal hitherto unsuspected magical powers." - Stephen Poole, The Guardian

  • "Miéville, whose own imagery has perhaps made more effective use of surreal effects than that of any other contemporary writer, seems fully in his element here (.....) (A)s vivid a portrayal of the disruptive and revolutionary nature of art as I’ve seen in quite a while." - Gary K. Wolfe, Locus

  • "This is a fun scenario, and Miéville grounds his story in an intricate web of real world references, which are explained at length in endnotes. But as a work of fiction the novel remains flat. (...) It often seems that things happen just so Miéville can show off another bit of art historical lore. (...) The biggest problem with The Last Days of New Paris is that for a book about surrealism, it fails to feel surreal. (...) (F)or the most part, The Last Days of New Paris comes across as an elaborate thought experiment, rather than a compelling fiction." - Ezra Glinter, The Los Angelest Times

  • "Miéville’s subtle understanding of politics, married to his sophisticated interest in science and art, gives us a short tale that is packed with ideas and inventions." - Michael Moorcock, New Statesman

  • "The book manages to be a caprice and a chrestomathy at the same time, a rollicking display of Miéville’s panache and a serious study of how art can resist, and how it is inadequate as resistance. (...) With its fractured oppositions, bad taste, demagoguery and monstrous alliances it seems all too relevant." - Stuart Kelly, The Spectator

  • "The real horror here comes not from the monstrous objects and demons, but from the sense of hopelessness when the Nazis try to beat the artists at their own game, as they harness powers of the unconscious and come up with an appalling uniformity that threatens to wipe out all trace of individualism and difference, leaving Paris like a pretty, empty theme park. It is no accident, of course, that manifestation is the French word for political demonstration. The Surrealist dreams are out on the streets." - Lucy Dallas, Times Literary Suppelement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Last Days of New Paris imagines an added twist to the Second World War, with things going wrong in Occupied Paris, an 'S-Blast' in 1941 unleashing what are called 'manifs', manifestations of, generally, the surreal. Yes, Miéville posits a contained (to Paris) world where Surrealist (and some other) art has come to life. The Last Days of New Paris includes more than twenty pages of endnotes describing the (actual, historical) sources of many of the manifs Miéville unleashes on Paris -- many of them likely familiar to readers (and, if not, most easy enough to look up online). Here is a city still dominated by the Eiffel Tower -- except that all that's left is its top half, floating untethered above the ground, its bottom half erased -- while the Arc de Triomphe lies on its side, "streaming with self-generated urine. A giant pissoir".
       Parts of the book are set in 1941, as various Surrealists and others in the Resistance (there's Sam Beckett ...) oppose the Nazis, but more takes place in 1950. In Miéville's alternate history, the war continues through 1950, with Paris a city that the Nazis have contained, but within which there is still a very active resistance -- specifically from the group 'Main à plume'. (La main à plume was an actual Surrealist resistance group/publication, taking its name from a Rimbaud-line; among their wartime publications were works by Breton, future Oulipo-president Noël Arnaud, and Léo Malet.) The main character is Main à plume-member Thibaut, now twenty-four, and an adept fighter -- to the extent one can be -- in these unusual circumstances.
       By 1950 the Nazis have improved their own manif-esting skills; among those called in to help is one Josef Mengele, whose skills apparently also find use here. (Amusingly, the Nazis try to rely on their own artists for their manifs, but a "kitsch, retrograde" Arno Breker statue come to life, even with: "vacant stares of notional mastery" can't quite compete with the Surrealist creations.)
       An American woman, Sam, joins the fray, here to "put all this down" in a book -- predictably, to be titled: The Last Days of New Paris --, while the threat of the Nazis gaining mastery of some of the unleashed powers, and their 'Fall Rot', make for heightened threats in the ongoing conflict. Thibaut doesn't quite have an ace up his sleeve, but he does have playing-card he pocketed that seems to offer some additional powers.
       It is all a bit heavy on invention -- the great premise, of Surrealist art come to life, in all its absurdity, almost too tempting to play with. It is good fun, but all this potential also undermines the stakes -- even with the Nazis in play. In a world where any absurdity is possible, where there's something extraordinary at every turn, it can be hard to impress with much of anything: triumph of the will, or anything else, all seems equally im/plausible.
       Miéville does mix all this together in a reasonably engaging plot, and the artist-cameos and a bit of philosophy add to the fun. It's enjoyable to imagine this alternate-world, where characters can sigh:

     Surrealism comes for us all, Thibaut thinks.
       The endnotes show how much fun Miéville had in weaving Surrealist reality into his fictional world; an Afterword, in which the author claims to hear the story from a survivor in 2012 nicely rounds off the tale. There's some sense that the premise overwhelms any story: employing these surreal come-to-life creations is just too good to pass up, even as it is hard to contain them -- either surreally or really -- in a work of fiction. Miéville is good enough a storyteller to make something of it, and there is a lot of fun in the often very clever detail, but The Last Days of New Paris does fall a bit flat as a novel (or novella, as Miéville calls it) -- perhaps in part also because the premise builds up such high expectations.
       The Last Days of New Paris is enjoyable, but, despite some heavyweight cultural-intellectual foundations, also a surprisingly light read, a game in which Miéville doesn't come close to fully utilizing the arsenal at his disposal.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 February 2017

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The Last Days of New Paris: Reviews: China Mieville: Other books by China Mieville under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author China Miéville was born in 1972.

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© 2017 the complete review

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