Monday 27 July 2015

The Most Beautiful Walk in the World by John Baxter

Subtitled A Pedestrian in Paris, I was expecting The Most Beautiful Walk in the World to be all about walking around Paris, seeing the sights and getting some great tips for places to visit next day....

But TMBWW is more of a memoir. Part boastful name dropping, part journal, with quite a bit of "look at me! look at me!" thrown in. It seems that Baxter wanted to impress us with his literary connections and elegant taste in food.

I wanted to love this book.
I wanted to lose myself in the streets and parks and cafes of Paris.
I wanted to dream, plan and hope.

Instead I clunked and shuddered from one anecdote to the next, always expectant, always waiting for that moment when Paris would reveal itself from underneath Baxter's seemingly endless supply of words.

I understood his "look at me" approach completely.
Growing up in rural Australia is not an easy thing when you're shy, with intellectual tendencies and a burning desire to not only see the world, but to make your mark on it. I just didn't feel in the mood to read his book about it though.

At some point I also realised that I was enjoying the well-selected chapter quotes more than I was enjoying the actual chapters.

The only section that really piqued my interest was early on when Baxter was talking about a French family Christmas.
His wife had a
stoneware vinegar bottle....Into it, she emptied a few trickles of red wine left after a dinner party. Inside, the mere, or mother, a gel-like colony of bacteria, transformed it into an aromatic vinegar. This bottle, with the mere already inside, came to Paris in 1959 with Aline, the housekeeper hired to cook for Marie-Do, her young sister, and their widowed mother. Before that, who knew...? As long as you kept it fed, the mere was immortal.
I had never heard of this before, although I guess it's like those 'live' cake mixes that go around every now and again. A regenerating vinaigrette is more my style though - and more anecdotes like this would have appeased me.

Sadly my one excursion into Paris for Paris in July has left me feeling a little 'meh', although I can still be found Dreaming of France :-)

Breaking News:
At work today, I picked up Snow Kimono by Mark Henshaw (winner of this year's NSW Premier's Literary Award for fiction) as my lunch time read. If the stars align this week, I may be able to get in one more Paris book before the end of July and also fulfill my Japanese Literature challenge at the same time.

On the same day that retired police inspector Auguste Jovert receives a letter from a woman claiming to be his daughter, he returns to his Paris apartment to find a stranger waiting for him.

That stranger is a Japanese professor called Tadashi Omura. What's brought him to Jovert's doorstep is not clear, but then he begins to tell his story - a story of a fractured friendship, lost lovers, orphaned children, and a body left bleeding in the snow.

As Jovert pieces together the puzzle of Omura's life, he can't help but draw parallels with his own; for he too has lead a life that's been extraordinary and dangerous - and based upon a lie.
This now also counts as my cheats-I'm-too-busy-packing-to-blog #IMWAYR post!


  1. Oh I havnen't heard of The Snow Kimono, I'll be keen to hear how you like it. It does sound intriguing. And what an Australia title- set in Paris with Japanese characters!

    I think I liked The Most Beautiful Walk in the World more than most other readers, although I guess I was more willing to forgo the deficiencies of the book for my Paris hit.

    Good luck with your packing.

    1. A fb friend responded to this post too with much love and admiration for Snow Kimono, so I'm even keener to get stuck in. The first four chapters have been tempting so far. One chapter described a scene in Japan that was so beautifully evoked, that I've been thinking about it all night.

      I'll check out your Beautiful Walk link when I can :-)

  2. Anonymous28/7/15

    Sorry to hear about the disappointing book about Paris.
    I am about to start the Dawn of the Belle Epoche (2011) and then the her second book The Twiiight of the Belle Epoche by Mary McAuliffe (2014).
    Perhaps this would be something you would like!

    1. I did a quick a google and they DEFINITELY look like something I would like - thanks for the heads up Nancy. Although I've just done a huge cull of my TBR pile for the move...and now I'm mentally adding two more books to it :-/

  3. Anonymous28/7/15

    Oh no, sorry to read that you didn't enjoy The Most Beautiful Walk in the World! The Snow Kimono sounds interesting, I hope you enjoy it :)

  4. Brona, Like you, I was underwhelmed by this book and shamefully admit that I didn't finish it. I'm in the midst of a Paris book that I am enjoying though, "Lunch in Paris." It includes recipes. I think sometimes that I can relate to foreigners writing about Paris more easily than books written by the French. But... I recently read The Red Notebook, written by a Frenchman, and definitely loved it, plus felt right there in Paris.
    Thanks for playing along with Dreaming of France. Here’s my Dreaming of France meme

  5. The Snow Kimono sounds interesting. Yet another book for my todo reading! Maybe I will gather it for next year's Paris in July!

  6. That's so disappointing about your Paris read. I've seen that book around and always thought it sounded interesting. I'm glad I read your post before buying it - now I won't be reading it. As for The Snow Kimono - I love the cover! That book sounds interesting and will be perfect for JLC :)

    1. Sadly that's not the Australian cover for Snow Kimono. I cheated as I preferred this Scandinavian crime-style cover instead!

  7. Sorry your walk around Paris didn't turn out well with John Baxter's book. Maybe Snow Kimono will come through! Good luck with the move.

  8. Oh how sad - one would think a walk through Paris would be delightful and breath taking and inspirational - this sounds like a chore. I really do recommend Patti Millers 'Ransacking Paris' - an Aussie girl from west of the mountains who lived in Paris for a year. Her recount of walking through the streets was captivating and enjoyable. I have also just finished a quick read of the Red Notebook - pleasant little love story. Good on you getting on to the Japanese Lit Challenge now too - I've got my pile growing for after July - starting with a Murakami...

  9. sorry to have hit on a miss for Paris in July - but thanks for the headsup!
    I'm laughing my way thru I'll Never Be French - another memoir - albeit a lot of fun [by Mark Greenside] and it's def about France and his experiences [Not focused on himself] :)

  10. Darn, I have that Baxter book on my wishlist - I also have his The Perfect Meal on my TBR. I hope that will be better.

    1. When I checked goodreads later on, Vicki, I found that a number of readers felt the same way I did, but there were also quite a few, like Louise above, who enjoyed his book and view of Paris. Swings and roundabouts :-)


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