Take your Haunted Cat and Go to Paris: French Exit | 2018
She said, “I’m old enough to have received a corsage from a white-gloved West Point cadet with a pomaded ducktail and a solid silver flask of rye in the pocket of his gabardine tuxedo — that’s how old I am.”
The customs agent was flummoxed. He asked Malcolm, “She is sick, monsieur?”
"She isn’t sick.”
“She does not die?”
“She must not die here,” the customs agent warned Malcolm.
“She’ll die somewhere else,” Malcolm promised.
The customs agent looked back at Frances. “No dying in France.” He stamped their passports and waved them on.
- French Exit, p. 84
The Sum of It
Having lived lives of leisure and luxury, and ignored every piece of advice offered by their accountant, Mother-son duo Frances and Malcolm find themselves out of cash and luck. Neither feels equipped for the working world, and when an opportunity arises to travel to Paris, the duo feel that an expat escape to a friend’s empty Paris apartment is simply their only option.
In the ensuing journey, across the sea in a luxury cruise ship, the pair travel with their cat, Small Frank, who is believed to be inhabited by, shall we say, a spirit. When Small Frank escapes them, they gather around them a rag tag band of, honestly, crazy people, including a clairvoyant, a wine merchant, a private investigator, and assorted others, who are determined to help them solve the mystery of his disappearance and get settled in Paris. Frances and Malcolm, simultaneously helpless and disdainful, each have agendas of their own to pursue, and the blend is both very funny and somewhat sad.
The B&C Treatment
Having read both of author Patrick DeWitt’s previous two novels, The Sisters Brothers and Undermajordomo Minor, I was certainly interested to try out his newest effort, particularly once I learned it was about a quirky couple of characters and their haunted cat (honestly not sure what could be more up my alley, plot-wise). This book did not disappoint, and in fact is my favorite of his novels, far superior to Undermajordomo Minor which I legit would not recommend. French Exit is possessed of the witty, offbeat dialogue of a Wes Anderson film, and evocative descriptions of people and places that allow you to form vivid images in your mind. From a penthouse apartment to a glamorous cruise ship to the streets and historic structures of Paris, these are places you want floating around in your mind’s image gallery, too.
Underlying the witty repartee and glamorous settings, however, is the melancholy tinge to the story you’d expect from a privileged pair who’ve lost it all and haven’t gained any grace or kindness along the way. Both Frances and Malcolm have sad pasts that neither has successfully dealt with, and their changed circumstances bring all of that into stark relief for them. However, this book does a poetic job of contemplating these sad circumstances without giving way to bleakness or losing track of the fact that these characters are uncommonly ridiculous.
You’ll like this book if you like:
Charming but occasionally melancholy books with clever dialogue, such as Less by Andrew Sean Greer, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney, or My Family and Other Animals, by Gerald Durrell.