BOOK REVIEW: French Exit by Patrick deWitt

French Exit is pretty darn good – in fact I would say it’s exquisite!

A fan of deWitt’s writing, I was delighted to be sent an early copy of ‘French Exit‘ to review from Bloomsbury Books – and so I set about devouring this latest offering in a couple of sittings. If you haven’t read deWitt before I would highly recommend you do…but those of you that have, will know deWitt’s writing is both frustrating and electrifying in equal measure. It’s frustrating because it is so damn good – as a writer myself I find it crazy to see how much talent this guy has (reinventing himself time again) – his work continues to remain unique and breathtakingly different from his peers making him in my opinion one of the best writers working today – you can’t help but get carried away by a deWitt book and you end up gorging yourself on his brilliance – your mind tingling as you digest his delectable and masterfully constructed prose.

‘She, Frances, was looking out the high window above her vanity and into the black cube of sky. A leaf wandered drunkenly past. “It used to be that seasons filled me with expectation,” she said. “Now they seem more a hostile encroachment.”‘

Our cast of characters are a fabulous bunch of scoundrels with secrets and many blurred edges, which in typical deWitt style come into focus once we have gleaned information on each of these characters as their stories progress and conversations are had – deWitt does characters very well indeed and fans of The Sisters Brothers and UnderMajorDomo Minor will be happy to know that you will also be getting a book laced with black comedy that had me laughing, chuckling and bawling as I read.

One of the things I loved about French Exit is that there is no real plot on offer – no stringent goals to be achieved by our characters. I liken it to a trip taken with old friends – as a reader you can just sit back and enjoy deWitt’s musings – it’s this directionless plot that lends itself so well to French Exit – making it a book that is bold and unique and like nothing I have read before. In essence, this isn’t me taking a pop at deWitt not a lot happens – especially once mother, son and cat get to France – but it’s in the nothingness where deWitt’s undeniable brilliance shines on every page, it takes a very special writer to keep you enraptured in a book that has no visible or discernible plot – but he had me gripped from start to finish!

‘She wrote: I saw a man’s penis yesterday. He was pissing in the courtyard of the apartment. Actually I’ve seen a number of penises since my arrival. Have you noticed men simply take them out and use them here? No harm in it, I suppose, but it takes some getting used to. Yesterday’s was memorably large. What a gift that must be for a man. What a lottery life is. It was nice to see it, I’ll admit.’

French Exit follows the life of a Frances a sixty something Manhattan socialite, her son Malcolm and their cat Small Frank. Up until now they have been enjoying and living a carefree life – drinking, dining, buying, selling, frequenting various hip restaurants and holidaying in the best most exotic locations and buying property like it was a Monopoly board…but there’s a problem on the horizon…there money…the family fortune…has run out! So these three (well Frances and Malcolm) manage to make some quick money –  selling things that aren’t being repossessed by the bank or being used to pay overdue debts – selling these heirlooms quickly and on the side meaning that they can hide what little money they’ve made and head over to France and start over, with the helping hand of a friend and her spare apartment in Paris.

‘She seemed scared; she pulled me in like I was late to meet her. Her apartment was dismal: a mattress on the floor, bedsheet tacked to the window, and her fridge was leaking water across the kitchen. The realization that she was poor was very shocking to me. I hadn’t seen anything like that before, and I was actually frightened by it.’

This book is hard to pin down and in many ways that is what I fell in love with – there was nothing gratuitous about it – it was just a wonderful story told in such an enchanting and magical way that it is impossible to put down – there are odd moments in it too, where deWitt leads you a merry dance – but you can’t help but follow his lead and fall more in love with it – no matter how absurd things get.

French Exit showcases Patrick deWitt as a writer who is at the top of his craft, breaking conventions, deftly moving between genres, borrowing from each as if creating a bountiful feast for us to enjoy – bold and brilliant, a writer we highly recommend!

French Exit is free flowing storytelling by a raconteur who knows no bounds.

French Exit is food for the soul and has deWitt at his brazen best.

French Exit is like a Pink French Fancy…awesome!

‘”By the age of eleven I was becoming beautiful, so that people began acting strangely because of it. Certain women were cruel to me, for example. They were unsay about this – they wanted me to appreciate their dislike of me. Men, of course, were deferential in a way I’d still call sexual. There weren’t any advances; I wasn’t molested. They were simply looking to the future, putting a pin in something that might be addressed later. Besides all this, I was discovering about money. What it meant to have as much as we had then, I mean, and how rare it was not to have to worry. In short, I was learning that my life was wide open.’

French Exit is published by Bloomsbury Books and is available here.

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Patrick deWitt

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Patrick deWitt’s writing has appeared in several US magazines and anthologies. His first novel, Ablutions, was published by Granta Books in 2009. He had previously published a short book of random writings and bad advice, Help Yourself Help Yourself. His second novel, The Sisters Brothers won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, the Govenor General Literary Award and was shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

Reviewed by Ross Jeffery

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