Crossings by Alex Landragin
English | 2019 |Historical Fiction| ePUB | 4.0 MB
I didn’t write this book. I stole it…
A Parisian bookbinder stumbles across a manuscript containing three stories, each as unlikely as the other.
The first, ‘The Education of a Monster’, is a letter penned by the poet Charles Baudelaire to an illiterate girl. The second, ‘City of Ghosts’, is a noir romance set in Paris in 1940 as the Germans are invading. The third, ‘Tales of the Albatross’, is the strangest of the three: the autobiography of a deathless enchantress. Together, they tell the tale of two lost souls peregrinating through time.
An unforgettable tour de force with echoes of Roberto Bolaño, David Mitchell and Umberto Eco, Crossings is a novel in three parts, designed to be read in two different directions, spanning a hundred and fifty years and seven lifetimes.
Several summers ago, I received a call in my workshop on Rue des Bernardins from the noted bibliophile and book collector Beattie Ellingham. She wished to have me bind a loose-leaf manuscript that she described as the pride of her collection. There were no constraints of time or money, she said, but there was a condition, to which I agreed: I was not to read its contents. The manuscript was, in her estimation, priceless and I was to bind it accordingly. We agreed that it would be bound in what is called the Cosway style, in doublure, framed with pearls, using materials that she would provide.
I’d known Beattie Ellingham all my life. She was one of the Philadelphia Ellinghams. She’d married into the Belgian aristocracy but, having been widowed early, reverted to her maiden name and never remarried. She divided her time between her apartment on the Boulevard Haussmann and her estate in Belgium. Privately and as a term of affection, my wife and I referred to her as the Baroness, although there was in fact nothing remotely pompous or ceremonial about her. The Baroness was my oldest and most loyal client, as she had been for my father before I inherited the bindery. In the course of a long collector’s life, she’d assembled one of the finest private libraries in existence of material pertaining to Charles Baudelaire. She was more than a collector; even the word bibliophile did not quite do her justice. She was an obsessive. She lavished on her books the same doting affection other members of her class reserve for horses and wine. She accorded as much importance to a book’s binding as to its contents. To her, bookbinding was an art, and a bookbinder an artist almost the equal of the writer. A well-crafted, bespoke binding, she liked to say, is the finest compliment a book can be paid. Whenever I undertook one of her commissions, the Baroness would visit my studio, keeping an interested eye on proceedings without interfering. For her, it was a pleasure to witness a rare book given a second lease of life in an equally rare binding. And as her collection was intended only for her private pleasure, and her fortune inexhaustible, she liked to indulge her whims to the fullest extent of the law, and even, on occasion, beyond it. Previously, I’d bound a rare Arabic edition of Le Spleen de Paris in leather made from the skin of a black panther, and an illustrated underground edition of the banned poems of Les Fleur du mal in alligator skin with inlays of water python.
Three days after her call, the manuscript was delivered by a young fellow on a scooter. He didn’t remove his helmet, which muffled his voice and obscured his face. He handed me a package containing the manuscript and the leather with which to bind it. I immediately placed it in a safety deposit box I keep above the workshop.