There’s something about this novel that reminds me of S.J. Perelman’s The Swiss Family Perelman and Westward Ha!. It might be the deadpan absurdity, or the quirky characters, or the witty and sometimes twisty turns of phrase. Probably all of that.
French Exit is about Frances, a wealthy woman in her sixties who is bankrupted after her husband’s death. She and her deadbeat adult son Malcolm decide to move to Paris to live in a friend’s apartment. They bring along their cat, Small Frank, and set out for Europe.
The characters are nuts in the best way, the way that recalls screwball 1930’s comedy. Frances is absurd and not very nice at all, a wealthy beauty who truly enjoys running from “one brightly burning disaster to the next.” Malcolm is next to useless, a sad and self-centered manchild who manages to evoke a little pity, given his parents. And the cat is not just a cat–he’s the vessel for Frances’ late husband’s soul. Once the family gets to Europe, even more oddballs are added to the mix as Frances plans her grand exit.
French Exit is a quick and entertaining novel full of sharp observations and wit, humor and depth, incredibly quirky characters and situations, and some surprising turns.