Friday, September 13, 2019

'French Exit' by Patrick deWitt

13 September 2019

Patrick deWitt is trying to be the Stanley Kubrick of contemporary novelists, with each of his books exploring a completely different genre. After his brilliant quirky Gold Rush Western ‘The Sisters Brothers’ (reviewed here in October 2015) and the strange, funny, middle-European fairytale ‘Undermajordomo Minor’ (reviewed here in September 2016) he has now turned his hand to an old-fashioned ‘tragedy of manners’ in his latest novel ‘French Exit’ which I have just finished reading as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Laurence Bouvard. This feels like a chamber piece compared to the previous novels: it is a fairly short book in which not too much happens. A rich widow and her son lose their fortune and have to leave Manhattan to live in a friend’s apartment in Paris. Along the way they accumulate a collection of friends, acquaintances and tradesmen to whom they are mostly rude or indifferent. It’s an odd tale, slightly surreal and often frustrating. None of the characters are particularly likeable but the book has a strange charm. It reminded me a little of the play ‘You Can’t Take It With You’ by George S Kaufman and Moss Hart (reviewed here in January 2012) which features a house guest who arrived six years ago to deliver ice and never left. There is also an echo of PG Wodehouse about the idle rich characters – and the novel feels like it should be set in the Wodehouse era, despite apparently being present-day. It’s not trying to be funny in the manner of Wodehouse, though it builds gently until you reach a set-piece farce scene without realising it. ‘French Exit’ is a peculiar, detached piece of storytelling which I didn’t think was entirely successful but Patrick deWitt is a fascinating writer and it will be interesting to see which genre he chooses next.



Post a Comment

<< Home