The man who walked through walls, Marcel Aymé, tr; Sophie Lewis, Pushkin Press, 2012
I am extremely picky when it comes to short stories, much more than novels. I generally try reading anthologies of stories hoping I’ll come across an author who delights me. So I surprised myself when I bought a book of short stories from an author I’d never heard of before.
And I’m in love! I’ve never raced through a book of short stories so fast. I’d finish one and move onto the next but find the last was still lingering around me like a delicious complicated scent. I’d be thinking and smiling about them while I was on the tube, at the pub, having dinner or with friends.
Aymé takes an idea; what if a man could walk through walls? What would he do? How would people around him react? Dutilleul does nothing with his power until he is overly irritated by his boss and decides to surprise the man in his office:
Looking up, with an unspeakable fright, he found Dutilleul’s head mounted on the wall like a hunting trophy. But the head was still alive. Through its pince-nez, the head flashed a look of hatred at him. Even better, the head began to speak.
“Sir,” it said, “you are a ruffian, a boor and a scoundrel.”
The stories are darkly comic and the leaps of his imagination made me gleefully anticipate what he would come up with next. Each one is like a reverse gothic parable. Aymé satirizes bureaucracy throughout society whether in a story about time being rationed due to shortages or the tedious queuing at the gates of heaven.
I don’t think I’ve owned a book by Pushkin Press before but I was impressed with the thick matte pages and the clear spaced layout and that it was quite sturdily made. It is one of those books you think could never be read as enjoyably on an e-book.
The author loves his characters. And he makes me love them too. How does he do this in such a short literary form? I knew each story would be wonderful, it would be humourous, sympathetic and poignant. I also knew I would care deeply about each protagonist however ridiculous or mundane their situation was. The relationship between a boy and his mother in The Seven-League Boots made my heart ache. I am so happy I took a chance and picked this book up.