Philippe Soupault is perhaps best known as one of the pioneers of the Surrealist (literary) movement, together with the irrepressible André Breton.
However, his writings in the early 20th century, thriving with avant-garde experimentation, have been overlooked somewhat - perhaps overshadowed by Breton's Nadja, which many consider to be the seminal Surrealist text.
The Last Nights of Paris, however, is a masterpiece. Ably translated by American expatriate poet William Carlos Williams, the text reads much more fluidly than Nadja, as the nameless protagonist stumbles upon a murder scene, and becomes infatuated not merely with the details of the crime, but also with a woman he happens upon at the scene, the femme fatale Georgette.
The unattainable Georgette is also a prostitute. Such unlikely juxtapositions scatter Soupault’s novel, as well as unexpected metaphors. Just like the (recurring) dogs in the text, the prose is gloriously aimless; conscious decisions and rationality are unimportant - in nocturnal Paris, one must surrender oneself to the vagaries of chance, investigating and musing upon details of intrigue, drifting from chance encounters with no discernible motive.
The real triumph of the novel is Paris itself. Humans are mere accessories to the evolution and motion of the city, reduced to two-dimensional stereotypes as the convoluted city heaves to prominence.
Time is constantly stopping, starting and re-starting, it is fluid and changeable, just like the narrative thread.
When a conclusion is reached, it is predictably, almost comically, anti-climactic. However, the weaving intricacies of the journey and the vivacity of Soupault’s prose ensure that the novella itself is anything but.