Americans Bombing Paris
This book is dedicated to Michael Lydon 31st January 1976 – 23rd May 2011
Peace and Love my Friend.
“Let us not pretend any of us care one jot for the other. Let us not continue with that conceit. Let them not stand there and say they noticed the blood on my sleeves.”
Meet Thomas Bartlett
My name is Thomas Bartlett, this is my first novel. I am also a published ghost writer. I was born in Belfast and grew up in Galway. I lived in Paris for four years and Spain for two. Now I live in Dublin. I have been a teacher and a restaurant manager, a waiter and a cook. I have finally alighted on what I was always going to be, a writer.
Thomas Bartlett, author, ghost writer, teacher, restaurant manager, waiter and cook, has this to say about his first novel:
“The constant bombing of foreign cities makes me sick. But in the end Jack (the main character) just falls in love, and he forgets about the death and destruction. And for a while at least, he is alive.
I spent four years in Paris and besides the balcony I made the rest up, but I made it up sitting on that balcony.”
A first novel which begins:
“I stood on the balcony as the first planes came screeching and screaming in. Flying lower than they needed, to get a better look. The view must have been amazing. Plunging low, then high, undulating at something around the speed of sound. Even American Air Force pilots were unable to resist the allure of Paris. Le Top Gun.
My vista was the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand, The National Library and blue vapoured sky. I peered into clunky, sad and lonely apartments normally filled with small furtive people. People who went to bed understandably early once sated by the nightly variety shows. The buildings were all empty now. Only a few of us had chosen to remain in the city. Fewer again had managed to elude Le Thermo- Nuclear Imagination Facilité, like for fuck sake? This device had scanned buildings inside the Périphérique, the ring road, for two days before the bombing looking for people like us. People who had stayed behind.”
I tend to separate novels into three categories: novels of ideas, more exposition than story; plot-driven novels–popular fiction or “beach reads”; and novels of character, in which character determines fate, drives plot, and makes the expounding of ideas unnecessary. I confess to considering these distinctions a hierarchy of quality.
I enjoy a good “beach read” as much as the next person and my entertainment of choice is what I refer to fondly as my “trash” novels. I happen to be a particular fan of mysteries–everything from the British cozy to the American police procedural.
I started many years ago with Dorothy L. Sayers, discovered Margery Allingham, then Martha Grimes and Ngaoi Marsh, and moved on to Robert K. Tanenbaum and James Lee Burke. Anyone familiar with those super-stars of the mystery novel will realize that I have managed to find beach reads that are filled with intriguing, well-developed, and multi-dimensional characters.
I have very little patience with a novel that has a weak plot, one-dimensional characters, and a narrator who lectures on her or his favorite political or ideological hobby-horse.
Understand, then, my discomfort on reading early in Americans Bombing Paris:
“The geniuses behind the arms trade, and believe me there are many, have figured out that war is their customer. So naturally they must spend their marketing and advertising budgets on creating new customers, or as we would call them, targets.”
And on the very next page:
“Flash forward and as the clouds of dust settled in New York, as the strategists spun everything they could from the whole thing, Iraqis once again heard their name being bandied about. Naturally for the average Iraqi this was bewildering and, might I suggest, terrifying. Most Iraqis have not had the benefit of a Harvard MBA in instantaneous strategic decision making. These MBA courses have a long and storied list of illuminated alumni and aggressive academics, many of whom work for think tanks. Think tanks, I understand, are places for people whose thoughts are more dangerous than tanks.”
What had become of that as-yet unidentified narrator who watched Paris from his balcony? He was thinking, even then, of the planes and of the political situation that had dictated an evacuation of the city, but his eye was still on the famous library, the sad apartments, the blue vapored sky. I felt I could easily have known him.
And then our clever Mr. Bartlett who has, admittedly, a bit of a message to deliver, proves himself a novelist, a storyteller, a creator of characters. Watch the turn after that first sentence, still in the book’s opening pages. He doesn’t keep up waiting long for the good news about Americans Bombing Paris.
“And are machines not just our own attempts to emulate the animals? I hark back to why I ended up in Paris. Maybe to prove something to myself? More than anything, I had wanted to have a look before I was too late. And no, I do not mean I foresaw any of the horror I saw and caused, I mean before I was too old. I’d been twenty five, almost unaware I’d missed out. Twenty five had become old as I approached it. Twenty was now considered to be the new twenty five. So that made me thirty.”
I am not especially interested in that bit of speculation about machines and animals. I am caught right away by this man who takes a moment out of time, a moment on a balcony, overlooking a beautiful city, to consider something important.
By the time we are nearing the novel’s end, Thomas Bartlett has surrendered magnificently to the romantic in his own soul. Here is his main character, in the midst of a world of terrible violence, undeniable political corruption and the absence of any respect for life, describing something so simple and so profound as almost to defy description. Yet Bartlett accomplishes it:
“The night felt warm, around about body temperature, and emotional. Naya brought us down to the banks of the Seine opposite the burning library. She parked and locked the bike. We put our coats on the ground. We sat there with our backs to the old wall, watching the four books of the Bibliothèque burn. In front of us was first the Seine, then some boats, a road and then began the steps up to the library. Naya sat between my legs with her back leaning against me.”
But the grace of that healing touch is balanced by an impressive apprehension of the complexity of the human psyche: we love and we hate; we are courageous and we are utterly helpless.
“James laughed and said in as sardonic a voice as has ever been mustered or muttered ‘So we might all be getting the death penalty. This whole thing has left me unbelievably unsatisfied, where the fuck is my pound of flesh? I thought I’d be eating it by now with shallots. Bollix.’ With that he stood, thought about his life, where he was, who he was with, where he would go, and sat down again.”
Thomas Bartlett–author, ghost writer, teacher, restaurant manager, waiter, and cook–is a young man to watch, as he develops his certainty of what he was “always going to be, a writer.”
“As I got to know her more I figured out what type of jokes made her laugh. So I spent a lot of our time together trying to make her spit out her drink with laughter. Despite this mirth, sometimes the strange French blanket of malaise would gently fall upon us, inexplicable and curiously unavoidable.”
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