Marie’s Reading: “French Exit: A Tragedy of Manners” by Patrick deWitt

51kVJ27KveL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_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.

–Marie

 

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Marie’s Reading: “The Painted Girls” by Cathy Marie Buchanan

painted girlsSet in Paris in the late 19th century, The Painted Girls tells the story of the Van Goethem sisters, Marie, Antoinette, and Charlotte.  The family is in dire straits after their father dies.  Their mother takes work as a laundress, but drinks up most of the profits.  It’s up to Marie and Antoinette to take care of themselves, each other, and Charlotte.  Marie becomes a dancer at the Paris Opera, while Antoinette takes a job at a theatre.  Eventually Marie winds up as a model for the artist Degas, and Antoinette falls in with a young man who is not as wonderful as he seems.  Through hardships, challenges, and betrayals of many kinds, Marie and Antoinette remain devoted to one another, leading eventually to a relatively happy ending.

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