I was happy to learn on Friday that the crime author Lalie Walker was acquitted of all charges in the trial that pitted her against the owners of the Marché Saint Pierre. The management at the tissue store had accused her of harming the image of the shop, simply because she had set one of her stories, 'Au malheur de dames', in the establishment and had not changed its name.
Earlier this year, I had walked past the store with the author Cara Black and mentioned the case to her. She was intruigued because she too had set a scene here. In her story, 'Murder in Montmartre', the heroine Aimée Leduc manages to escape from her pursuers by diving into the delivery chute of the shop. The chute (see Cara Black's picture above) was just an interesting feature that she had noticed when researching the story, and which she had been keen to incorporate into the novel.
If the outcome of this trial had been different, would she have had to become more careful about using such features in the future? The President of the Communist group on the Paris City council had an interesting reaction after the announcement of the verdict, declaring that there had been a "risque d'une privatisation de l'imaginaire tout à fait inacceptable" (a completely unacceptable risk of privatising imagination).
Is the subject so clear cut though? The worlds of the imaginary and the real in cities often seem to overlap, and sometimes the fictional seems more relevant than the factual. We all know where Sherlock Holmes lived, but do we know where Arthur Conan Doyle lived? Paris is no different, and walking tours 'in the footsteps of the Inspector Maigret' are common, giving you the opportunity to see where he lived (it has no front door!), eat the sandwiches he ate and drink the same beer.
The idea of experiencing a city at once in its physical and fictional state is one that fascinates me. Authors have cast magic before us, telling stories from stones, bringing life back to the dead, and perhaps transforming cities forever. The imaginary may well therefore have more power, but this certainly does not mean that we should restrict its use. The right conclusion was written here in a court in Paris, and the only losers are the owners of the Marche Saint Pierre. They had demanded 2 million euros in damages, but ended up having to pay the author 3,000 euros themselves!