4 June 2015

Pierre Duclos and Georges Martin: Piaf: Biographie (1995)

The first chapter of Piaf begins with Louis Leplée first discovering Édith Piaf singing on the corner of rue Troyon and avenue Mac-Mahon near l'Étoile, although later in the chapter the writer becomes more guarded, and says this might not be true that he discovered her there. And the chapter ends with Leplée's murder.

Chapter Two is all flashback, detailing what is known – or at least what has been said about Piaf – up to Leplée's death. And then Chapter Three picks up from Chapter One. Apart from pecking about a bit, searching for particular things that this biography says about events or people in Piaf's life, I'd had enough, and I suspect that many others have felt the same: this was written more than twenty years ago, and the only 'review' I can find is a two-sentence affair on the French Amazon website – it calls it badly written and one of the adjectives used in the title is merdique ('shitty'). So what's wrong with it?

Piaf was written by two people. In the Foreword, publisher and/or editor Hervé Hamon says that 'collector' and 'fan' Georges Martin wrote all the Indexes, which amount to about eighty pages of detailed discography (including unrecorded songs, refused songs, etc), filmography, theatography, and so on. Pierre Duclos 'became' 'fou de Piaf ('crazy about Piaf'), although Hamon immediately adds that this was in the guarded way that a biographer is of his or her subject. Umm: Duclos did later write a biography of Georges Cano, local politician in Saint-Jacques-de-la-Lande in Brittany (population 11,000) but I'll definitely give it a miss.

The reason I stopped reading – and I do so very rarely – is because I found the bulk of the book (the 450 pages written by Pierre Duclos) unreadable: I just couldn't digest a publication that more or less reads as a list of dates and songs and conflicting 'he-said-although-she-said' stories. But most of all I couldn't feel anything engaging, anything of interest to hold onto. Which is really frustrating and immensely disappointing as Édith Piaf is a fascinating character.

I won't dump this book though: despite the lack of Bibliography – and how unscholarly is that? – there is at least an Index that may well be useful to refer to in the future.

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