Lead Review

  • Book: Standing Heavy
  • Location: Paris
  • Author: Frank Wynne (Translator), Gauz

Review Author: Tina Hartas



The title takes its name from the vocabulary of the security guard – and here, it is a look at the lives of the undocumented workers from the Côte d’Ivoire, who work in the security industry across Paris. It looks back to the 1960s from more or less the present day.

There are snapshots of observations, of the nationalities who pass through metal detector gates at Sephora, amusingly differentiating the responses of the different nationalities when the alarm is triggered. Clothes labels are detailed, sizes, customer idiosyncrasies and the shopping vibe.

The rhythm of the story varies. After a series of short paragraphs, each titled with a snappy headline, there is a series of longer passages, detailing the lives of the guards back at their lodgings and how they come to negotiate the city. It is clear that the Parisian economy couldn’t manage without their contribution.

I can see that the book endeavours to inform, in an insightful and amusing way.Alberto Prunetti is quoted on the back cover: “A pataphysical ethnography of consumer society written with exemplary critical humour” Hmm. I had to consult the dictionary to understand that one.

I guess as a cohesive book, it didn’t really work for me. It is beautifully translated, it is thought provoking about the lives of the incomers, but I just couldn’t connect – I breezed through and struggled really to take much away from the reading experience – apart from a short immersion in good prose.

I also wonder about the wisdom of printing the book in what have become the Ukrainian colours of yellow and blue. I checked the flag of the Côte d’Ivoire (assuming it maybe too sported blue and yellow) but comprises orange, white and green. I guess the cover design took place well before the Russian invasion of Ukraine…. At least I now know what the flag of the Côte d’Ivoire looks like.

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