I adore this book. I knew I would, there’s a cat on the cover and I heard Patrick deWitt read from it during his Giller event here in Calgary last year and the section he read was HILARIOUS. Luckily the rest of the book lived up to his stellar performance, and I think I’ve found one of my favourite books of the year.
French Exit was published in 2018, and was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize that same year, receiving numerous other accolades since then. It’s about an extremely wealthy family; the matriarch, Frances Price, her adult son Malcolm and their cat Small Frank, whom they believe to be the reincarnated spirit of Frances’s late husband and feared lawyer Frank Price. At the very beginning of the book it becomes clear that their fortune is now gone, having been wasted on foolish purchases over the years. Fleeing Manhattan for a friend’s apartment in Paris, the mother and son duo (think Lucille and Buster Bluth) find a new network of ‘friends’ to settle in with while they grow accustomed to their new, modest lifestyle.
I can’t be the first person to make this lame joke, but I believe deWitt is one of the best authors at conveying ‘wit’ in his characters. (I’m here all night folks!). The banter between Frances, Malcolm and their acquaintances is what makes this novel so spectacular, but the timing and bluntness of even the cursory characters is well done. The dialogue is hilarious, prompting many chuckles and laugh-out-loud moment as I made my way through this woefully short 244-page novel. I rarely state that I wish books were longer, but in this case I did because I wanted to read about these two characters for as long as possible.
Frances is by far my favorite character; even though she behaves despicably for the majority of the book, her glimmers of kindness are still believable, endearing the reader to her even more. Frances and Malcolm attract a few hangers-on by the end of the book, despite the fact they are now broke and still rude the majority of the time, but like us readers, people around the duo can’t seem to get enough, even if living in their company is difficult. For some reason, it all seems worth it, just to exist in the orbit of these two, and although I have hindsight and some distance, I must admit I would probably find myself in the same position as these Price fans.
Most of deWitt’s books (if not all of them) have a very similar feel, and that is the blend of dark and light, humour and violence. Similar to a Quentin Tarantino movie, the characters are all delightfully entertaining even though they live somewhat sad or disturbing lives. I can include all the Arrested Development GIFs that I want in this post, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that some terrible things happen in this book as well. Like all good WASPs, Frances and Malcolm keep their emotions in check until cocktail hour arrives, and even then we can only tell how upset they are based on how much liquor they decide to indulge in. No doubt that the further I get into this review, the more obvious it becomes as to why these two are so popular among their social circle.
Patrick deWitt novels are great books for so many reasons; they’re enjoyable to read (the most important reason to read any author!), they deal with serious subject matter with a light touch, and you feel as though you have lots to ponder and analyze at the end, if you’re inclined to do such things. No judgement if you’re not into that, but as a book reviewer, it’s kinda my job, and deWitt makes it easy. Another reason to read this book? It’s the We’ve Read This book club pick for May-register here.
HOW did I not include any deWitt books in my literary smut post?? He writes the most hideous sex scenes of all. I’m still traumatized MANY things in Undermajor Domominor….
LOL I read that book ages ago but I don’t’ remember that sex scene. It must not have seemed that bad to me? There wasn’t much sex in French Exit. I’ll be interested to see what you think of Maidenhead!
Wonderful review! I just checked this book out from the library, and I cannot wait to read it. I think it is going to be hilarious and enjoyable. I love a good satire.
I hope you like it!
Nice review! deWitt’s been on my radar for a long time, and you’ve convinced me to bump this up on my list. The characterization sounds so vivid.
I hope you like it-and the characterization is fabulous!
I loved this one too. I still need to read his other books. I may have to bump my star rating up on this one upon further reflection. I enjoyed it sooooo much.
Isn’t it fabulous? hahah
I’ve never understood why readers say they don’t like unlikable characters, and I’m glad you point out that you enjoyed these folks. I mean, if I have to be around unlikable people, I definitely want them on page and not in real life! Some unlikable are terribly amusing, though I would never tell them.
That’s the perfect word for it-these characters are TERRIBLE but soooo amusing! Definitely better on the page than in real life! LOL
This is one of those books that I read thanks to your recommendation. My husband and I listened to the audiobook, which added so much flavor to it. However, we both wanted a different ending! Here’s what we conceived of:
What if Frances tried to commit suicide right when they got to France and then the rest of the novel was spent with all those fantastic characters and she realizes that her high society life, which has made her cruel, isn’t nearly as grand as all these wack jobs she has softened and taken a liking to?
I like this idea!!! I actually thought that she would commit suicide earlier in the book, and that would have been really interesting b/c we could see what her son would do without her, and how it would change his life.
YAS. Nick and I both just thought the ending was a let down, not only because we were sad, but it felt like “What’s the point?”
Great review of a fabulous book!
It’s still making the rounds at our library, which is great to see. It’s kind of irresistible.
That does seem to look a little like I imagine Frank might look too. Although you feel like you wanted to spend even more time with these characters, and I thought 224 pages was quite enough, thanks very much. But I agree that he is very talented indeed. And I’m never sorry to know that I’ll be reading another of his books, whenever they appear on a longlist anywhere!
You say that there are too many books in the world to read any book more than once, but I confess I did just that with French Exit. Delicious the second time too.
I’m weird in the fact that I don’t re-read books, many do, and get much pleasure from it! Enjoy as many times as you wish, books are worth it 🙂