Gwendoline Riley at the Times Literary Supplement:
The stories in The Left Bank are often very short, but are hardly denuded. Here are glimpses, curiosities, street scenes. In these spates of impressions and perceptions, Rhys combines sensitivity and dash to bring us the ethnography of a nightclub (“Tout Montparnasse and a lady”) and a jazz café (“In a Café”) and a department store staff canteen (“Mannequin”), each as crowded as a sketchbook page. “In the Luxembourg Gardens” illustrates a pick-up, and would not look out of place in a seaside postcard-rack, while the narrator of “Illusion” is a demi-monde Miss Marple, keenly investigating a “gentlemanly” female friend’s proclivity for hoarding frocks. Each character comes fully accoutred, with pipe or dirty waistcoat, spectacles, or monocle, green hat or yellow wig, string bag, silver rings – and ready to peer cautiously through atelier doors, or rush into a café, or burst into song.
Their situations run from “rum” to “gay”, though with a marked tendency to the former. Montparnasse is described as “full of tragedy – all sorts – blatant, hidden, silent, voluble, quick, slow”. The voice that tells all this is sometimes abject, but more often downright larky, if savagely so. It can declare: “Poor Sara . . . also a Romantic!” Or “Poor André! Let us hope he had some compensation for forgetting for once that ‘eat or be eaten’ is the inexorable law of life”. It can lament, damn and dispense. It isn’t cruel, though. How could it, why would it, out-cruel such a cruel world? In fact it can conjure pure pity. Of an exhausted drunk, Rhys writes, “She sighed heavily, instinctively, as a dog sighs”.