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.
This French thriller is a slim, quick read, but it packs an emotional punch. The story is about a nanny named Louise, hired by a French couple to care for their two children. Over time, and via flashback, it becomes clear that Louise is not as wonderful a find as her employers supposed.
This novel is quite understated and character-focused. Readers who are tired of rote police procedurals and lots of heinous crime will likely find the style and tone refreshing. The reader is also aware from the first page of both the crime and who did it, and the narrative does not focus on an investigation nor the gory details. Instead, we get a glimpse into this family and into Louise’s life, and can intuit the reasons behind the tragedy that opens the book. The story is compelling and unsettling, with lots of dark corners.
The Perfect Nanny has less to do with a crime and investigation than it does with motherhood and with caregiving, and how oppressive those roles can be even as they bring a lot of joy. Slimani also examines the tensions of class. Readers who enjoy intensely focused, character-centered novels should give this one a look! I’d also suggest it to readers who enjoy old-school domestic thrillers.
“To all those men and women who will always find a place for themselves in a library more easily than in society, I dedicate this entertainment.”
Sophie Divry’s dedication in her novella The Library of Unrequited Love says all you need to know about it.
One morning a librarian comes in to work to find that a patron has spent the night there. In the minutes before the library opens, she talks to the person. Well, monologues or rants might be more correct. Either way, it’s a long narration with no section breaks or paragraphs, just the Geography Librarian talking at you.
In describing her life and her woes, the librarian comes across as tragic, hilarious, and maybe just a little unhinged, each by turn. You get the sense that this is happening in real time. You, the reader, are the patron who got stuck overnight in the library. Sometimes you’re amused, sometimes you’re scared, sometimes you’re just quietly upset, sometimes you nod along with the librarian as she opens herself up, talking about everything from Napoleon to the Mayor to an inability to leave a pile of books on the floor to the young researcher she’s got a crush on.
At 93 pages The Library of Unrequited Love is the work of an evening, but you’ll want to go back and read it again. It’s a fantastically quotable piece. I share her love/hate relationship with Dewey’s system of classification. Her depiction of Dewey categories as social classes is a thing of beauty. Her complicated relationship with library patrons is very well-drawn, as is her raging against the machine of local politics. The librarian has a wonderful voice–Divry gets this woman across beautifully. Even in translation from French the language flows nicely and the character comes through in all her glory.
A wonderful, quick little read for librarians and those who are fascinated by them. Perhaps also a cautionary tale for library regulars. After all, how often do you get to hear a librarian rant at you when she’s off the clock and there’s no one else to listen?
Wow. It’s really hard to believe we’re already at our summer break. It’s been an amazing year. Can’t wait for September!
Here are the books we shared at our meeting last month. Please excuse how crude this post is. I’m lucky I even managed to steal the time to write it. Also, it’s summer vacation, so I figure the time for effort-posting is done. Clicking the title will take you to the Shelfari page for the book. Enjoy!
The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky
Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan
Attracting Native Pollinators: The Xerces Society Guide to Conserving North American Bees and Butterflies and their Habitat
Made For You and Me by Caitlin Shetterly
Bark: Stories by Lorrie Moore
Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
So there you have it! Another fun-filled year of books and friends and stimulating conversation is done. Enjoy your summers, and see you in September!