A rollicking, poetically charged tale of privation and adventure, a first cousin of Kerouac’s On the Road for all that it takes place within the confines of one city. Clébert finds all the hidden worlds—the shacks and Gypsy wagons on the periphery, the ostensibly vacant lots...the mushroom farms and serpentariums concealed inside apartments...
A remarkably vivid, detailed book that seems to have been composed with no method, its narrative marked by a chaotic and cheerfully self-acknowledged spontaneity… Clébert is a master of the long, cascading list-sentence, trippingly rendered into English by Donald Nicholson-Smith. His descriptions are mirrored by (not illustrated by) the bleak photographs of Patrice Molinard… A connoisseur of chaos, Clébert is the poet of the lumpen-proletariat and of a forgotten city.
—Edmund White, The New York Times Book Review
'This is not supposed to be a Baedeker or some tourist guide:' Clébert offers a hellish itinerary of the less fortunate quarters of Paris. First published in 1952, Clébert’s Paris insolite has been classified as a novel, though it is as journalistic as George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London; if it has novelistic kinship, it might be to Jean Genet’s Thief’s Journal…..The photographs, by Molinard, are in the stark documentary style of a Weegee or Robert Frank…. Altogether, they add to the impression that this is less a novel than a book of reportage. But no matter how it's classified, it's a sobering, eyes-wide-open view of the Paris no guidebook would care to portray.
Clébert’s vivid, incantatory descriptions of Paris’s streets and back alleys, its abandoned attics and houses of ill-repute, its losers, liars, poor, criminals, and outcasts…English-language readers have had to wait until now to read Clébert’s magnificent ode to the underbelly of Paris, rendered beautifully from the French by translator Donald Nicholson-Smith…Clébert’s is a style of radical openness, and his sentences reproduce the possibilities of wandering, of getting lost.
—Hal Hlavinka, The Quarterly Conversation
Paris Vagabond is a pleasure to tag along with, from sentence to sentence, section to section, arrondissement to arrondissement. Its catalogs of wonders…are as strange to my eyes as the catalogs of Herodotus or Italo Calvino...Paris Vagabond should be required reading for all Francophiles of the Eiffel Tower, Paris to the Moon variety...In brief, Nicholson-Smith has done a seamless job of reassembling Paris Insulate in English...It’s hard to think of another book about Paris that is so entertaining, so brutal, or so genuine.
— Alex Andriesse, Reading in Translation
Readers who come to the printed page in search of life—atrocious, beautiful, sordid, picturesque, funny and tragic life, of the warming sun and freezing rains, with behind it all a muscular and heartfelt sensuality—these readers will not be disappointed.
—Henry Muller, Carrefour
The most startling, the most lively, the most ‘Mysteries of Paris’ work to appear since the peregrinations of Gérard de Nerval.
—René Fallet, Le Canard Enchaîné
Praise for The Blockhouse
Clébert’s prose...hits an unfailing stride in the febrile Poe-esque evocation of the horror climax...Clébert displays a very impressive and extremely painful talent for the inferno of [his characters’] minds.
—Frederic Morton, The New York Times