So let’s take a towering classic of Russian literature, re-imagine it with lashings of adolescent angst, and then offer it up in its original verse form to a contemporary teen readership. You’d be forgiven for having your doubts, but I’m happily applauding In Paris With You by Clémentine Beauvais for the vision and audacity in this unique take on Eugene Onegin.
Set in modern day Paris, we consider what may have happened to Pushkin’s famous couple, Eugene and Tatiana, if they had met on the Métro, a decade after Eugene’s devastating rejection.
Their chance reunion is relayed by a narrator, whose worldly-wise tones accompany us to the book’s powerful conclusion.
‘Look how shaken they are to find
Each other again.
Look at their eyes…’
Electricity flies in their ‘dance of glances,’ and the heat is on. And yet there is no consummation. Tatiana needs to understand what happened those ten long years ago. Why did Eugene reject her, and what fateful secret is he concealing? We must travel back in time and carefully unpick their intricate relationship.
This is a sophisticated novel and a very fine translation by Sam Taylor. Like first love, the writing is lush and intense.
‘…the wet pavements shimmer
With silver glimmers like anchovies.’
We meet Tatiana as a 14-year-old girl, feverish with longing for Eugene, and inhabiting a solitary world of adolescent fantasy. But it is the young Eugene who makes the reader gasp, for his inner world is dark. Bored and cynical, his flirtation with nihilism will have bitter consequences.
And yet, a decade later, their flame still flickers, although Tatiana feels so much wiser now. Do grown women believe in everlasting passion? In Paris With You vividly captures the potency of young love. Savour this description of the lovers’ caresses.
‘ …and so it was that they liberated scores of shivers,
like birds released from cages unsuspected…’
Purchase immediately if your teen reader is the type to embrace the verse form and sometimes exhausting intensity. Dazzling.
In Paris With You is translated by Sam Taylor and published by Faber & Faber, 352 pages.