Diary

Robert Walshe

One of the great advantages of living on the offshore island otherwise describable as the landmass of Europe and Asia is that by so doing one may avoid all direct contact with the English literary establishment, which I have nonetheless managed to enter with the publication of a novel called Wales’ Work.[1] In Paris, where I have lived even longer than Graham Greene, avoiding literature is not on. Whether he chooses to or not, the Parisian swims in literature the way his motor-car bathes in traffic. It is not possible to round a corner on a Paris street without running pellmell into an author, a publisher, or a nègre – a ghost writer. But the foreigner can be spared all real involvement with literary Paris if he is determined enough about the language. My advice to all who come here to live is simple. Don’t speak it, ever. Make them come to you. They will then put you down in their minds as yet another English oaf, of whom there are far too many already, thereby sparing you everything you are not spared when you join Eng Lit.

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[1] Wales’ Work was reviewed in the LRB of 18 July.

[2] Portrait d’une Séductrice, Jean Chalon, Paris 1976.

[3] Ibid. Natalie herself speaking.

[4] I credit this discovery in part to David Lodge. In the Cahier de I’Herne on Samuel Beckett he is quoted at length on the meaning of the word ‘ping’ in the Beckett work of the same name. ‘Ping’ translates into French as bing and hop. Bring the original together with the French equivalents, and the result is a triad of peaches – not the sort of thing the experts could be counted on to discover without outside help.