Product Review - Paris-Saint Denis

While at times entertaining and easy to read throughout, this is overall a disappointing first novel from Paul Besson, a self-proclaimed twenty-something "Petit bourgeois" recounting his bohemian life in Paris.

Which is essentially one big pose: as he talks about his attempts to become a musician, actor, writer, whatever he feels makes him most genuinely artistic, he lets it be known his father is an "écrivain", presumably monied and evidently available to pull him back into the ranks of the rich in case it all gets to be too much. 

Part of the facade necessitates living live in old Paris in a cramped studio with his girlfriend and sharing their “struggle” to find affordable housing.  As they become increasingly claustrophobic in their studio and look for a marginally bigger one, they are rejected time and again in a competitive renters' market and begin to entertain the notion of going outside the “pĂ©riphĂ©rique” to Saint-Denis which is apparently one of the mainly Black and Arab suburbs with a “reputation” as a poor and dangerous but the appeal of cheap housing. 
The book starts off with his foray into streets of Saint Denis and I thought this was going to be a sincere account someone deliberately seeking to live in an immigrant neighborhood in order to cultivate a real existence with real people (which could have been the basis for wonderful writing). His first observation was promising:  that as one of a small white minority he had expected to be stared at (harassed?) but instead realized his presence is largely a non-event in the eyes of normal people going about their daily business. 

But despite spending increasing amounts of time in the neighborhood,  the closest we get to human connection is his description of Arab grocery store clerks and comparing food , and decor at different kebab joints, his noting of which restaurants are all Black, all Arab or mixed of both (Asian cuisine attracts all apparently). I kept waiting for a relationship, a character, for goodness sake a five-minute conversation over coffee with a neighbor! But the author seems intent on starting on the outside and observing the natives in their natural habitat. But without actual interaction, there is not much to observe. 
His excuse for not engaging? That— as his brazenly titled chapter “Un riche chez les pauvres“ explains, no matter how much he tries, his education and "culture” (there is apparently only one definition of culture) inevitably would betray his station.   

I was left thinking —on top of the waste of a chance to really connect with the extraneous residents that populate his sentences —were a publisher to offer any one of them a pen and extra 15 minutes at the end of their workday to write their observations of daily life, that the result would have been a much more interesting read.  And would have the added benefit of actually arriving--as the title promises--in Saint Denis.