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The Last Days of New Paris is a 2016 fantasy novella by China Miéville. World War II is still being fought in 1951 while Paris has been sealed off by the Nazis to contain living manifestations of surrealist art, referred to as manifs, which roam the streets of Paris after the detonation of an "S-Bomb" at a French Café, Les Deux Magots.

The book consists of two stories: the main story takes place in an alternate 1951, while the other takes place in 1941 and depicts the events leading up to the detonation.

Epigraph[]

"One overhears many reactions to surrealist art, but the most pathetic of all is from those who ask, ‘What am I supposed to see and feel from this?’ In other words, ‘What does papa say I may think and feel about this?’"
— Grace Pailthorpe, On the Importance of Fantasy Life

Plot summary[]

1950-1951[]

The book begins in late 1950, where Thibaut - a Parisian surrealist-resistance fighter, witnesses a woman riding a manif, the Vélo, attempt to break through a Nazi barricade. Although the manif is unharmed by bullets, the woman is hit several times and falls off as the manif tramples the barricade. Thibaut rushes to the dying woman's side, but he cannot help her. Just before she dies, the woman cryptically speaks of "the doctor" and "the priest", then hands Thibaut a playing card with the words "Fall Rot" hastily written on it.

Thibaut eventually makes contact with an American named Sam, who he saves from a pursuing pack of Nazi-commanded dog-chair manifs. Although he initially believes her to be a scavenger looking for occult scrap to sell on the black market, Sam tells him that she is a photographer trying to record all of the manifs for a book she is writing, The Last Days of New Paris. She and Thibaut begin traveling together, along with a manif loyal to Thibaut, the space-bending "Exquisite Corpse", while avoiding or fighting off Nazi patrols augmented with reluctant demons, the result of a tenuous diplomatic treaty between Germany and Hell.

Shortly after a failed attempt to use the Exquisite Corpse to retrieve the remains of the S-Bomb, Sam reveals that the woman who was riding the Vélo was British spy working for the SOE, and that she herself is also a spy, but for Hell. Despite his newfound reservations, Thibaut continues to work with Sam.

Together, the two eventually uncover that the Germans are attempting to create an artificial demon of their own, Fall Rot, a demon of German victory, with the help of Josef Mengele and a traitorous Catholic Bishop named Alesch. Although Fall Rot kills Mengele, Alesch, and the Exquisite Corpse, Sam succeeds in contacting Hell, which drags the artificial demon down into a magical crevasse.

Their victory is short-lived however, as the pair soon realize that the Nazis' ultimate goal was not the creation of Fall Rot, but to sacrifice Fall Rot to bring to life a self-portrait of Adolf Hitler, which begins turning the city into a boring, pastel-colored new form, disintegrating anyone it sees with its gaze. As the pair attempt to find cover, Sam is disintegrated by the Nazi manif.

Thibaut succeeds in throwing the head of the Exquisite Corpse at the creation, which soon consumes the self-portrait and turns it into another Exquisite Corpse. As the new manif leaves, Thibaut is left with Sam's bag, her pictures and her writings and her records of intrigue. After a moment of contemplation, he takes Sam's bag and shoves it into a hole in the barricade on the edge of the quarantined Paris, leaving it for someone else to find.

He knows that it will not be long before the Nazis realize their plan has failed, and he has resolved to write his own story of what has happened - to redo history. As night falls, Thibaut re-enters New Paris, the old city.

1941[]

The chapters set in 1941 follow Jack Parsons, an American engineer who has entered Paris to meet with various surrealist artists. Over the course of Jack's story, he succeeds in developing an occult device with the help of the surrealists. However, the device is stolen by Raymond Couraud who attempts to sell it on the black market. After Raymond is ambushed by Nazi agents at Les Deux Magots, he detonates the device.

Afterward[]

In the afterward, China Miéville writes about an encounter he had with a nameless Frenchman who had contacted him via letter. The man relayed the events of The Last Days of New Paris to Miéville, who has attempted to fill the holes with his own investigations, although Miéville never did track down the true identity of the man despite his best efforts. Miéville then recounts how he witnessed a well-dressed man with an apple obscuring his face observing him as he sat in a café in Stepney, and states his belief the knowledge of art and the manifs will help in times to come.


China Miéville's novels and other works
The Bas-Lag Cycle

Perdido Street Station · The Scar · Iron council · "Jack"

Other novels

The City & the City · Embassytown · King Rat · Kraken · Railsea · Un Lun Dun

Novellas

The Last Days of New Paris · This Census-Taker · The Tain

Short story collections

The Apology Chapbook · Looking for Jake · Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories

Nonfiction

October: The Story of the Russian Revolution


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