Page 133. " He told me of a very good place in the Boulevard Raspail "
Boulevard Raspail
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeBoulevard Raspail - Credit: timlam18 Flickr

Crossing Boulevard Montparnasse, this Parisian street was named for the eminent 19th-century French doctor and politician, Francois-Vincent Raspail (1794-1878). Architecturally, buildings on the street are a mixture of Belle Époque opulence and Art Deco sleekness. The ornate sweep of the grander buildings drew harsh criticism from Le Corbusier in his seminal 1923 work Toward an Architecture, being the antithesis of his proto-Brutalist, utopian visions.

Page 134. " I don’t like boys; I tried in Morocco, but it was no use. I like women. "

Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeMarrakech - Credit: Mait Jüriado Flickr
So says the Gigolo to Sasha. The fact that he sought to discover any latent homosexual tendencies in Morocco was no accident. The country was colonised by both the French and Spanish in 1912, and T’hami El Glaoui became the leader, or Berber Pasha, that same year. Ruling with an iron fist, Glaoui’s love of all things Western brought in the jet set, perennially in search of a sun-scorched Liberty Hall, thus cementing the country’s dependence on tourism. As with any country with widespread poverty, sex was a commodity like any other, and gender became a minor consideration.

Creative Commons AttributionMorocco
American writer Paul Bowles first went there in 1931 on the advice of Gertrude Stein, and was the first of many gay artists who arrived in search of sexually willing local youths, particularly in Marrakesh.

Other regular notables included William Burroughs, Christopher Isherwood, Kenneth Williams and Joe Orton, who dubbed the place ‘Costa del Sodomy’. Latterly, attitudes have become increasingly conservative and stringent on the subject of homosexuality (which is technically illegal in Morocco) and although arrests are rare, the subject is taboo.


The Sheltering Sky on Book Drum

Page 135. " But I wanted to put my arms round her, kiss her eyes and comfort her – and if that’s not love, what is? "

Sasha equates love, simply, with comfort – the desire to comfort another human being. This sentiment clearly has a maternal aspect to it, which given the loss of her baby son, is entirely understandable.

Page 137. " We go in by the Trocadéro entrance "
Exposition poster
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeExposition poster - Credit: Nelson Ebelt Flickr

Sasha tells the Gigolo she wants to visit the ‘Exhibition’, referring to the Exposition Internationale of 1937. Sasha is referring to the building by its old name, possibly because she is a past resident of the city. The original Moorish-style Palais du Trocadéro was built for the 1878 World’s Fair, then demolished and rebuilt as the Palais de Chaillot in 1937. It was here, 11 years later, where the United Nations General Assembly inaugurated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Palais now houses several museums.

Page 138. " We are passing the Deux Magots. "
Les Deux Magots
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeLes Deux Magots - Credit: Serge Melki Flickr

Les Deux Magots is another infamous Parisian Café associated with the literary and artistic worlds. Situated in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area, it has operated as a café since 1914 and was most famously the haunt of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. In 1933 the Deux Magots Literary Prize was established, the first going to Raymond Queneau for Le Chiendent. The café’s name derives from the premises’ original function as a silk drapery: ‘magots’ being Chinese travelling sales people. The cafe is still in business.

Magot statues, interior
Creative Commons AttributionMagot statues, interior - Credit: Donar Reiskoffer



Page 139. " he thinks it strange that you should write them in words of one syllable. He says it gets monotonous, and don’t you know any long words’ "

Sasha recalls her brief employment on the Riviera as a writer for a rich couple (a job Rhys once had). Her (unspoken) response is dripping with bemused ironic humour (‘Long words. Chiaroscuro? Translucent? … I bet he’d like cataclysmal action and centrifugal flux, but the point is how can I get them into a Persian garden?’) While Rhys and her lonely heroine share many traits, they converge very clearly here: Rhys’s minimalist styling is what made her one of the key modernists, but also delayed her success and denied her recognition for decades. She wrote in 1934 that her soon-to-be-published second novel, Voyage in the Dark, was composed ‘almost entirely in words of one syllable.’ By adopting the deceptively simple trick of writing dialogue as it was really spoken, she prematurely marked herself out as an original in an era where verbose and stuffy text was still revered.