The narrator of this story, a young painter from Madrid, remembers with the urgency of a confession—perhaps to himself and during which, at times, he almost justifies his actions—the steps that led him towards ending his relationship with Michel. Michel, a mature, fifty-something man, a skilled labourer, with the solid body of a peasant from Normandy; the man who took him into his house, his bed and into his life when he became homeless in Paris; Michel, whose unconditional devotion returned his pride and saved him from abandonment, today lies in a hospital in Saint Louis, suffering from the plague, that most feared and shaming of diseases.
At the beginning there were happy days, with walks through Paris, drinks in the café-tabac while his pay packet lasted and desire, the pleasure of loving without any more aspiration that being loved in return. But soon, the hidden canvases in the modest apartment shows the young man that his ambition must take him away from this lightless room, from a relationship that begins to show the strains of different classes, education and ages, despite the convictions of Michel who puts his eternal, indestructible love before everything.
Rafael Chirbes finished Paris-Austerlitz in May 2015, written over twenty years of abandoned or intermittent work. To this noble and difficult task we owe the existence of a book that explores the reasons of the heart, as spurious as they are occasionally irrefutable, without accepting as true the consoling nature of love or its power to redeem us and to valiantly face the possibility that, although it may hurt us to accept it, love doesn’t always defeat everything.
«Rafael Chirbes is one of the best Spanish authors, one of the greatest European writers of our times» (Le Monde).
«The “next” Chirbes has arrived, and it is magnificent… The hell and heaven of love, the remains of a shipwreck, the dreams of the first moments, disillusionment… Intense pages, direct, uncompromising… Rafael Chirbes has never travelled so far into the jungle of passion. In this book, his most autobiographical, everything is contained and all overflows… A complete turnaround from novels like En la orilla… And he left us in silence. Astonished. Wanting more. Determined to read him again. As if it were the only thing that mattered» (Manuel Llorente, El Mundo).
«A brief and superb novel, worthy of the talent and technique of this author… Rafael Chirbes is working at the height of his powers, in complete control of every aspect of his writing. He´s direct and profound, brave and precise. His writing is not just concise, it is as accurate thanks to its lucidity and its poetic truth, which is dedicated to raising the curtain, seeing what is hidden, closing the curtain again and trying to forget what has just been seen. You leave the Paris Austerlitz station a different person to the one that entered. No one describes the carnage of love better … The dissection of that illness we call love by Rafael Chirbes is honest, savage and brave and, in a way, rationally unanswerable» (Carlos Zanón, El País).
«This novel, a jewel of profound expressivity, seems to be telling us that nothing is more powerful than the dominion of some people over others» (J. M. Pozuelo Yvancos, ABC).
«It is inevitable to think that the writer had scores to settle with himself, and with his readers, which motivated him –consciously or unconsciously– to write a testament–a black testament–, driven by the need for a final burst, a last flash, to leave us with an astonishing legacy… This is love according to Chirbes, observed with pessimism, toughness, and even with cruelty. As I read this implacable text, I began to think of the brutal universe of painters like Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon…With all the precision of a prose determined to not look away from the pain, poverty and moral misery. A book about anxiety?… Far from the sparkling impressionism and golden bohemianism, Paris is not a moveable feast, neither is love, or living. Chirbes, with undeniable Spanish literary roots, presents another perspective; that of the photographs of Eugène Atget and the novels of Jules Vallès, Eugène Dabit and, of course, Jean Genet. A hammer blow. "That´s all I have to say and that´s how I´m leaving you", he seems to say as he makes his way towards the exit.» (Manuel Hidalgo, El Cultural).
«Rafael Chirbes left this novel ready for publication a few months before his death, and not even the apparent rush of the last few pages reflects this premature goodbye, because the brevity that it transmits is consistent with the logic of the structure of the narrative… Nothing seems contrived in the novel Paris-Austerlitz, where the rollercoaster of erotic euphoria and defeat, of ascension and decline, reveals a power and honesty that is within the reach of very few writers» (Domingo Ródenas, El Periódico de Catalunya).
«The novel is composed with a perfect structure based on symmetries and unities that intensify the process of falling in love told from a subjective narrative perspective… It is his most intimate novel, (alongside La buena letra), as tough and pessimistic as his last two works … Written with the perfection, concentration and intensity of the best short novels» (Ángel Basanta, El Mundo).
«The indirect influence of Luis Cernuda can be appreciated in the opposition between reality and desire, the ups and downs of vehement eroticism and the chance encounters of unexpected love… Ideas like the essential search for pleasure, love as a confluence of domination and submission, the inevitable blame and recrimination, the bad conscience of falling out of love, the frustrations of promiscuity and even the classic story of love beyond the grave … A novel with a perfectly developed plot about a fascinating subject, with an excellent psychological construction of the protagonists, a precise and measured pacing, and a well-developed and accessible story. A definitive example of the best intimate realism and of great literature committed to the human condition» (Jesús Ferrer Solà, La Razón).
«Literature of extraordinary quality… I read the novel with growing anguish, with accelerating attention and was trapped by its desolate force, its tragic essence that moves the reader and turns it into a work of art …The economy of resources is admirable, its containment doesn´t hide the intensity of its emotions and the profound humanity of the story that´s told. Read it» (Antonio Garrido, Sur).
«Sometimes it reminds you of Jean Genet, that lyrical thief, a rebel with a cause. Sometimes of the suffering of Marlon Brando from Bertolucci´s film, as well. There, however, on the other side of the idyllic, in the dark room–both real and metaphorical–of any city, Paris can also be a party. A party–like all of them in reality–that will have consequences thanks to an excess of alcohol, drugs and unprotected sex. The consequences that come from living on the edge and reaching our limits…Love as a mortal trap. The laws of giving way to certain desires. Its consequences. Its challenges. Its dangers… Rafael Chirbes has written a beautiful and heart-breaking novel. This book, the last by the writer who we began to miss as soon as we found out about his death, flies above his impeccable oeuvre to situate itself among the most intimate, ferocious, delicate and sublime of his texts» (Ovidio Parades, Huffington Post).
«Some have said that this novel was finished in a rush, but the stripping away of the superfluous evident in these 153 pages actually demonstrates the contrary: what he did was to edit them until only the essential remained… Paris-Austerlitz connects with Mimoun, Chirbes´s first novel published in 1988… It is similar in subject, but not in the radical focus that the author´s writing has gained during the more than quarter of a century that separates the two novels…A magnificent and soberly realist novel» (Iñaki Ezquerra, El Correo Español).
«In these pages, just a few, but more than enough, we can measure once again the weight of common history in the story of each of usand feel the vertigo in the curves of the heart, those bends in the road that take us from euphoria and gratitude to boredom and escape…However, none of Rafael Chirbes´s books has an autobiographical charge as strong as this one, and this aspect of truth is evident, leaving the reader overwhelmed. The books by the author of La caída de Madrid are not about what happens within them, but about what happens inside the characters; character who become metaphors for the emotions that we all share. It is also a portrait of the history of a country from the end of the Spanish Civil War until our day. Rafael Chirbes knew how to live, and how to say goodbye» (Benjamín Prado, InfoLibre).
«His crudest and most personal work. A book which, knowing the reserved way he protected his private life, he may never have been able to publish in life. Chirbes uses abundant prose in his precise and painful images. This is possibly his most direct and raw book, and the work which goes deepest into the interior world of its protagonists» (Peio H. Riaño, El Español).
«A passionate story, moving and not at all ideological in its treatment of the subject of homosexuality…Nothing is irrelevant, everything has a purpose; a fine addition to the literary memory that this great writer has left us as a testament. Paris-Austerlitz is a short, yet immense novel about desolation, the uncertain destiny of love and the inevitability of unhappiness» (Luis M. Alonso, La Nueva España).
«Sex, in the work of Chirbes, is not only an act of domination, it is also an act of cannibalism. That´s why the lovers of his novels are always biting and nibbling. “Lovers want to devour each other. They believe it possible. It drives them crazy”, writes Chirbes quoting Lucretius… In his novels there are no loose screws. The most rigorous and least docile writer of his generation was a highly qualified craftsman in the novelistic industry, aside from a consummate forensic observer of the world around him» (Julio José Ordovás, Ahora).
«Dynamiting every frontier, both geographical and stylistic, Paris-Austerlitz is his greatest legacy» (Antón Bordón, La Provincia).
«One of the most revealing novels about the phenomenon of love that Spanish writing has given us over the last few years … One of this writer´s best works… Chirbes´s prose shines with its maximum expression of meaning and its extreme ability to be economic, lucid and scandalous. Reading the novel I couldn´t stop thinking about other classic works of the XXth Century with a homosexual theme, by artists like Pasolini or Joe Orton. This book is as brutal as the works of those masters and just as dark and terrible» (Juan Ángel Juristo, Cuarto Poder).
«Rafael Chirbes seems to have left us in this novel of a little more than one hundred and fifty pages an aesthetic, artistic and moral testament, a score that perhaps he never dared to settle in his life despite being, without doubt, one of the bravest writers of our time. For twenty years, the author picked up this book and put it back down again, started it and left it again until, just before his death, he decided to finish it… [The protagonist] finds love in Paris. A forbidden love in many ways: among genders, classes and generations… Chirbes tells the story of this love with a magnificent mixture of crudity and poetry, dissecting the desires and demands of the beginning of an unarguable love, unimaginable for his bourgeois and prudent parents» (Antonio Paniagua, Colpisa).
«Chirbes´s last novel is essential reading, especially when we learn that it is a book that took 20 years to produce and has very little to do with the tone of the recent and triumphal Crematorio and En la orilla. A story of forbidden love» (PollitoLibros.com).
Rafael Chirbes (Tabernes de Valldigna 1949 – Beniarneig, Spain, 2015) studied Modern and Contemporary History in Madrid. He worked as a literary critic and wrote for a travel magazine for some years. His novel La larga marcha was awarded in Germany with the SWR/Die Bestenliste Prize. Among many other awards, with Crematorio (2007) and En la orilla (2014) he obtained the Critics Prize, and with En la orilla also the National Prize for Narrative.
A tribute to Rafael Chirbes by Valerie Miles.