Tag Archives: French Exit

Six Degrees of Separation – from The French Lieutenant’s Woman to The Tax Inspector #6Degrees

Six Degrees of Separation is a meme hosted by Kate over at Books Are My Favourite and Best. It works like this: each month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the others on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

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This month we’re starting with John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman. I’m sorry to say that I remember the film, starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons, rather than the book which is set in Lyme Regis, one of my favourite seaside towns, and explores the position of women in nineteenth century society.

Taking my lead from Fowles’ title, Patrick deWitt’s French Exit is a caustic caricature of the wealthy upper classes, which takes its readers from New York City to Paris in the company of Frances Price, her son Malcolm and Small Frank, their ancient cat

Small Frank is one of the most memorable literary cats I’ve come across, only rivalled by the hairless therapy cat all done up in its ‘festive jumper’ in Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s Harmless Like You in which a mother leaves her family when he’s a little boy.

Another son wrestles with his resentment at the mother who he believes deserted him when he was a child in Nathan Hill’s The Nix, a panoramic view of American politics from the ‘60s onwards, in which Samuel is forced to come to Faye’s aid when she is accused of being a terrorist.

Russell Banks’ The Darling also explores the fallout from the radical politics of the ’60s and ‘70s together with the machinations of American foreign policy through Hannah Musgrave who has been in hiding after taking part in acts of terror many years ago.

The Larkins in H. E. Bates’ The Darling Buds of May couldn’t be further from such goings on although they do manage to seduce a tax inspector away from his official duties with the joys of rustic life.

Which brings me neatly to Peter Carey’s The Tax Inspector which I have to confess I haven’t read but I gather it’s about a dodgy family business facing an audit.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from an early postmodern novel set in Dorset to a second-hand car dealers’ just outside Sydney. Part of the fun of this meme is comparing the very different routes other bloggers take from each month’s starting point. If you’re interested, you can follow it on Twitter with the hashtag #6Degrees, check out the links over at Kate’s blog or perhaps even join in.

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.

Books to Look Out for in September 2018: Part Two

Cover imageMy first selection of September treats ended with the promise of more goodies to come, the most highly anticipated of which for me is Patrick deWitt’s French Exit. Cast out from New York society thanks to the scandalous death of her husband, Frances Price, her son Malcolm and their cat, who Frances believes houses the spirit of said husband, take themselves off to France. ‘Their beloved Paris becomes the backdrop for a giddy drive to self-destruction, helped along by a cast of singularly curious characters: a bashful private investigator, an aimless psychic and Mme. Reynard, friendly American expat and aggressive houseguest’ promise the publishers. Fans of The Sisters Brothers and UnderMajorDomo Minor will understand why I’m quite so excited about this one.

William Boyd has also chosen Paris as one of the backdrops for his new novel which will be very different from deWitt’s, I’m sure. Set at the beginning of the twentieth century, Love is Blind follows Brodie Mancour from Edinburgh to Paris where he conceives an obsessive passion for a Russian soprano with dangerous consequences. ‘At once an intimate portrait of one man’s life and an expansive exploration of the beginning of the twentieth century, Love is Blind is a masterly new novel from one of Britain’s best-loved storytellers’ say the publishers. Boyd’s last novel, Sweet Caress, marked a return to form after a string of thrillers which failed to hit the mark for me.

Christopher Priest’s An American Story brings us back into the twenty-first century with a novel which seems to examine the emotional fallout of one of its defining moments – the 9/11 attacks. Ben Matson lost his fiancée that day but with no body recovered he still has doubts about what happened to her, even nearly twenty years later. When the wreckage of an unidentified plane is recovered Ben is led to question everything he thought he knew about what happened that day. All of that may make this novel seem like an uncharacteristic choice for me but I’ve enjoyed several of Priest’s previous books.

Kathy Page’s Dear Evelyn is the story of a long, enduring marriage, putting me in mind of Addison Jones’ Wait for Me, Jack. Scholarship boy Harry meets independent, sharply intelligent Evelyn at Battersea Library. ‘This is a love story, albeit an unconventional one, about two people who shape each other as they, their marriage and their country change… … Dear Evelyn is a novel of contrasts, whose portrait of a seventy-year marriage unfolds in tender, spare, and excruciating episodes’ say the publishers which sounds much further up my usual street then An American Story.Cover image

I’m ending this second selection, like the first, with a set of short stories from a writer whose novels I’ve enjoyed. Samantha Hunt’s debut collection The Dark Dark comes with a well-nigh impenetrable blurb so I’m just going to quote a little of it: ‘Each of these ten haunting, inventive tales brings us to the brink of creation, mortality and immortality, infidelity and transformation, technological innovation and historical revision, loneliness and communion, and every kind of love’. Just about covers everything then.

That’s it for September’s new books. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis and if you’d like to catch up with the first batch, it’s here. Paperbacks soon…