Sarah Lotz's debut novel Pompidou Posse tells the story of Vicki and Sage, two young women from England, who in the late 1980s decide to flee the country after setting fire to their art school. They come to Paris, hoping to find work as au pairs and, like so many budding artists before them, to pursue a vague artistic dream. But the odd job is hard to keep, money even harder to come by, and eventually the two vagabonds end up homeless and broke on the streets of the City of Love which turns out to be anything but romantic.
The underbelly of Paris is a tough place. Vicki and Sage encounter many shady, often dangerous, characters. Stealing and begging become part of their daily experience. The occasional visit to a soup kitchen for the homeless is often their only way to still hunger. Most of the time they have no place to wash themselves or their clothes. The consequences are rotten teeth, parasitic invasions, and a persisting smell which most tramps acquire after a while. Getting food is always an issue; getting cigarettes, alcohol, and occasionally other drugs even a bigger one. The two friends find themselves on a downward spiral into disaster and for a long time there seems to be no rescue in sight.
We follow the girls through Vicki's narrative and Sage's diary entries which she addresses to the imaginary Gladys. The stories they tell complement each other, but also give one an insight into the two main characters which the friends are not always prepared to share with one another, only with the reader. Both accounts are vivid and spare us no details, however gruesome at times. Although they take a few pages to get used to because of their stark bluntness, Lotz captures Sage's and Vicki's individual idioms with great skill.
Growing up most of us went through a more or less rebellious phase. Yet, one cannot easily identify with the extreme route the two young women in Pompidou Posse take, and there are many moments in the book when one feels ready to give up on them as people. But Lotz balances our disapproval and our sympathy with insight and it is difficult not to like her heroines in the end.
Vicki is the more adventurous and careless of the two. Strikingly beautiful, even in spite of her clochard look, she often attracts the wrong kind of attention from the opposite sex. No matter how hard she tries, Sage does not always manage to protect her. Vickie also does not realise how important she is to Sage, who keeps her feelings well disguised most of the time. Sage has many demons to deal with and a secret from the past which throws a shadow over her entire life. The Paris experience is a journey of discovery for both of them. It is also the ultimate test for their friendship.
Reading Pompidou Posse will make you feel dirty and hungry for a couple of days, but it's a great read which anybody with an open mind and a sense for adventure will enjoy.
by Sarah Lotz