19 December 2017

Bertrand Beyern: Guide des tombes d'hommes célèbres (2008)

Wow. Although Bascoulard: dessinateur virtuose, clochard magnifique, femme inventée (2014) has (by a very long shot) to be the most interesting book I've bought this year, Guide des tombes d'hommes célèbres is also by a very long shot the second most interesting. (For the record, Louis Wolfson's Ma mère, musicienne... comes third, and Albert Cohen's Belle du seigneur fourth.) This is a 377-page book of the graves of people – the French are a bit weird with gender, mainly because of the way the language is constructed –  throughout the country, divided by order of départements, and within those by alphabetical order of villages or towns. No messing, no nonsense, pages divided into two columns with a limited number of unobtrusive photos: a taphophile's paradise.

Paris is obviously well represented, and there are maps with numbered graves of the cemeteries in Père-Lachaise, Montparnasse, Montmartre and Passy: the four most well-known Parisian places. But beyond this there are many other cemeteries within the périphérique, divided into the twenty arrondissements.

Although we visit Paris every September for the full month, we know that from the point of view of literature – France greatly treasures its literary heritage, as England only vaguely does – even Paris, let alone the country in general – is inexhaustible. Although there are the inevitable additions to be made of people already dead and those who will die, this book is a real treasure, one we will continue to consult during our regular three or four months in France every year.

I've found omissions here, but maybe the main one is tramp-painter Marcel Bascoulard, who perhaps wasn't as well known at the time of publication as he is now. I'm sure I'll find more blanks as I plough into the book, but there's no doubt that I've found a true gem here.

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