French Exit by Patrick deWitt: Squewering the rich

Cover imageI’ve been a keen fan of Patrick deWitt’s fiction since reading his darkly comic ripping yarn, The Sisters Brothers. His last novel, Undermajordomo Minor, was entirely different having more than a touch of the Gothic fairy tale about it. French Exit takes yet another turn with its caustic caricature of the wealthy upper classes, taking its readers from New York City to Paris in the company of Frances Price, her son Malcolm and Small Frank, their ancient cat.

Frances has been avoiding her financial advisor. She knows what’s coming. After years of jaw dropping extravagance her husband’s money has finally run out. She sells the contents of her swanky apartment, then the apartment itself, stashing 185,000 euros in cash along with her sedated cat in her handbag and crosses the Atlantic with Malcolm in tow. On board ship, Malcolm briefly takes up with a medium, later banged up in the brig for telling a passenger she’s about to die which said passenger promptly does. Once settled into her best friend’s apartment, Frances sets about ridding herself of her cash but not before Small Frank runs away. Soon they’ve acquired a full house of lodgers including a lonely widow, a private investigator and Madeleine the medium, tracked down to contact Small Frank. Frances is still spending money like water, handing it out to strangers when there’s nothing left to buy, and she’s desperate to find Small Frank. He is, after all, the vessel that houses her dead husband’s spirit.

DeWitt’s satire is almost cartoon-like in its outlandish comedy, lampooning the rich with a cast of vividly memorable characters: Frances the sharp-tongued widow, long thought to have taken off to Vail on a skiing trip after discovering her husband’s corpse; Small Frank lumbered with Franklin’s truculent, whining voice as he roams Paris, flea-ridden and hungry; and Malcolm whose only purpose in life is to keep his mother company. There’s a degree of humanity amongst all this excoriation: Malcolm’s emotional constipation after a childhood of being ignored by both parents contrasts with his mother’s attempt to burn the house down to get attention when she was a child. Not my favourite deWitt novel – The Sisters Brothers still holds pride of place for that – but still a welcome treat.

23 thoughts on “French Exit by Patrick deWitt: Squewering the rich”

  1. I didn’t get on with The Sisters Brothers, although the rest of the Book Group loved it, so it must have been something wrong with me. Should I rush to read this, or is it going to bore me in the same way?

  2. This is the first time I’ve seen this cover – I might like it better. Maybe I’ll have a preference after reading the book.
    I’m hoping I’ll enjoy the humour in this!

    1. Interestingly, I think I prefer yours, although Little Frank gets a more prominent role in ours and quite rightly so. I’ll be interested to see what you make of it, Naomi.

  3. This does sound like a lot of fun. What really strikes me about your comments on de Witt’s books is how different they are from one another. Clearly a writer with more than one trick up his sleeve!

  4. Ive just finished this …so finally read your review. I agree it isn’t quite The Sisters Brothers which was so different and fresh that it just swept me away. I did enjoy French Exit immensely though….. it was a change to read something absurdist and amusing ( given the news at home and abroad) and there are some fab characters…….I thought Frances was very poignantly drawn. Some the dialogue read asif it had just been lifted from Beckett which annoyed me but there were some great set pieces…….the visit to the ships morgue and the word game at the party particularly stood out !

    1. It was Little Frank that did it for me. I think The Sisters Brothers is a hard one to beat but, as you say, this is a pleasing diversion and like all good satire does have something serious to say.

  5. I missed the second because I wasn’t sure I could read him and have it be Not-the-Sisters-Brothers which was a book that pulled me in all sorts of contradictory directions and ended up wholly overwhelming me (in a good way, though against my wishes). Over the summer, however, I watched a film he wrote, “Terry”, a surprisingly tender (but, still, dark) coming-of-age, which I stumbled upon via the library catalogue when I was putting a copy of French Exit on hold, and I realised that I am up for reading more after all. I’ve only read the first three chapters, so I’m still wriggling around, trying to figure out what I think. Which I’m sure you understand, as you’ve read those chapters too.

    1. Yes, I’d agree but I warmed towards it as the novel progressed. Each of his books are so different from each other although as you can see from my review The Sisters Brothers remains unmatched for me. Undermajordomo Minor is still worth a read, though, particularly if you liked The Grand Budapest Hotel.

  6. Pingback: Beaucoup de Wit(t)! – Annabookbel

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