Book Review · Library

[BOOK REVIEW] The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville

At the start of WWII, American occult-engineer Jack Parsons ingeniously harnesses the imaginative power of the greatest surrealist artists of the day, and inadvertently causes the S-Blast; a nuclear-like explosion that brings to life manifestations of abnormal miscreations painted within famous (and not so famous) artworks of this bohemian collective. Keen to fight fire with fire, the Nazis desperately unleash a horde of demons against the resistance and their manifs.

Near a decade later, Thibaut, the last standing surrealist fighter wanders Paris in the fallout where, among many, Leonora Carrington’s Velocipedes – a centaur like creature with woman/angel for top and bicycle for bottom – zooms about, and Max Ernst’s famed Elephant Celebes wreaks havoc, casually taking down Wehrmacht minions in its iron-jumbo stride. Central to the plot is also the manifestation of Pope of Surrealism Andre Beton’s Exquisite Corpse, a chimeric Jenga tower of humanoid feet, work bench, steam engine, wizened bearded face, and larvae top hat who tags along with Thibault and American photographer Sam as they roam ravaged city streets photographing manifs with the Gotta Catch ‘Em All zeal of Pokémon collectors, whilst seeking out clues to shed light on the secret Reich project mysteriously nicknamed Fall Rot. As if all that weren’t madcap enough, there’s also magical pyjamas, Tarot sorcery, and cameos by historical Nazi priests and surrealist occultists.

While there may not be much in the way of plot, The Last Days of New Paris is endlessly inventive and fervently playful. And thanks to a handy set of annotations, readers may want to keep a mobile device nearby to readily Google the treasure trove of art pieces and artists referenced as to summon more potently the gallimaufry of grotesquery on display. Also, by invoking a rather cheesy Bad Guy’s Not Quite Defeated Yet trope towards the end, Mieville manages to wittily and cheekily illustrate precisely why great art plays an important role in the face of despotic dictators. Ludicrously magnificent!

Rating: ★★★★★

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