This is an intriguing little book. Let me expand on that. Firstly, it is a little book and has the feeling of a slim volume of poetry (more on that later). Also, it turns out that Tessa Newcomb lives in Suffolk and is an occasional visitor to Paris, not a native. That’s interesting because this isn’t a collection of the grand vistas and famous landmarks that you’d expect from an outsider, but rather the intimate corners that you’d think had come from an insider. The form is also a reflection of the function – the small size follows the nature of the images – market stalls, street corners, quiet cafés. Figures, when they appear, often have their backs to the viewer and are going about their daily business.
I referred to poetry at the beginning and, in his introduction, the critic Philip Vann quotes Hope Mirrlees’ 1919 poem, Paris: “Little funny things ceaselessly happening.” The book also includes prose observations from Tessa Newcomb herself that complement and illuminate the illustrations – these short pieces have a poetic quality in themselves. In what is a gift to students of English literature, the poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti described the sonnet as, “a moment’s monument” and that’s pretty much what we have here.
This is a charming book. It has the objectivity of the outsider, but combined with the amused affection of the habitué, and forms a lively commentary on life not just in Paris but in cities in general.
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