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Reading Paul West

Anne-Laure Tissut

IV. Témoignages et textes inédits de Paul West

Mysterious Figures II: The Other Paul West

Robert Lima

Texte intégral

1I was in London briefly and had time on my hands. I remembered that my Penn State colleague and friend Paul West had told me that he would be staying in his London flat. He had invited me to visit on the next occasion and this was it. But I had left the address and telephone number at home and had to resort to the telephone directory. I found his number easily enough and placed the call.

2The voice that answered did not sound like him and I asked if I could speak to Paul West the writer. He identified himself as such and I proceeded to identify myself and to inform him of my brief time in London. I hoped, I said, that he was free and we could get together as he; d suggested back in the States. He sounded rather tentative about the whole thing but came round to accepting my suggestion. I too felt awkward, as if I was intruding into other plans that he would have to set aside to accommodate my visit. Nonetheless, he gave me instructions to his place and we agreed to meet at six that evening.

3I located his house—not a flat—and arrived promptly at the appointed time. A very dapper fellow in tweeds and an Ascot opened the door and greeted me. As I had seen him moments earlier on the street carrying a bag of groceries, I imagined that he was Paul’s man servant. It may not be usual for a writer and academic to have a butler, but I figured that since Paul had done very well in his writing career he could afford that luxury. I gave the man my name (hat and coat would have followed had it been the season) and asked for Paul. He said that he was Paul West and invited me in.

4He may have been Paul West but he was not my Paul West! On the phone I had asked specifically for Paul West the writer and this man had identified himself as such; clearly, he was usurping my friend’s identity and living in his house. Seeing my consternation, he admitted that my name had not been familiar but that during a recent tour of universities in the States he had invited several academics to visit him when in London; although my name did not awaken memories of an earlier encounter, he had seen fit to have me over. He was indeed Paul West and he was indeed a writer—of television programs. I explained about my friend the noted novelist and memoirist and the Paul West present before me acknowledged that he had read some of his works; and he was gracious enough to laugh at the case of mistaken identity, even if taken ad absurdum.

5I absented myself despite his protestations, not even accepting the gracious offer of a whiskey. I don’t know that I have ever been as embarrased in my life, both by my original faux pas and then by my flustered exit. But the authentic Paul West, the one I had sought in that house in a London suburb, had a hearty laugh when, back in the US, I recounted my failed attempt to meet up with him. I wonder if this anecdote will materialize in some future edition of Portable People.

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2009

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