French Exit – Patrick deWitt
“’All good things must end,’ said Frances Price. She was a moneyed, striking woman of sixty-five years, easing her hands into black calfskin gloves on the steps of a brownstone in New York City’s Upper East Side.”
A dysfunctional family caught in the midst of despair.
French Exit is Patrick deWitt’s fifth novel and second screenplay. Originally published in 2018, it has since been made into a popular film starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Lucas Hedges. It received positive views all around and was shortlisted for the 2018 Giller Prize.
Following the deteriorating life of Frances Price, she’s forced to leave her affluent life in New York and run away to France with her son after losing their fortune. Oh yea, and the cat’s Frances’ dead husband reincarnated.
The story follows mother and son as their affluent life falls down around them. Having spent all of her late husband’s wealth, Frances decides to forgo the scandal of bankruptcy. She drags her idle son Malcolm and what’s left of their possessions to Paris. Instead of being embraced by the City of Love, they’re destroyed by it. Along the way, they meet an interesting plethora of characters, from a destitute psychic to a coy private investigator to a demented housemate. There are seances with reincarnated cats and burning money and complicated relationships between hopeless dreamers.
French Exit is a tradgic comedy with dark humour and fatalistic wit.
- It’s a dark and fantastical novel with smart jokes and sassy dialogue. It’s entertaining to read and a lighthearted tale that keeps the reader hooked from the very first page.
- DeWitt takes the stereotypical possessive mother and over-dependent son trope to a whole new level. Despite the story being based on the cliché, he writes it so wittingly that even serious subjects can be read in a lighthearted way.
- The characters are unique and well-developed. From the sophisticated Frances to the flighty Madeleine, each character has their own unique personalities and motives.
- For some readers, this tale may be too lighthearted. It can appear as farcical and almost daft in places which can make it incredibly unlikable.
- It has a depressing end. I won’t reveal any spoilers, but future readers be warned that the tragedy you expect within the first few pages doesn’t have a surprising twist in the end. It can be a dark turn in an otherwise fun novel.
- One of the highlights of these characters is their flaws. There’s not a single ‘good’ person throughout this novel which makes it enjoyable to read, but unfortunately, there’s not a single ‘good’ person at the end either. The characters are selfish and vain and don’t learn a single lesson.
Overall, I’d give Patrick deWitt’s French Exit a four out of five. It’s a fun and witty tale with a deeply disturbing end.
I’d recommend this novel to whoever enjoys lighthearted stories or anyone who wants a quick read. It’s somewhat pointless but this only adds to its charm as a tragic comedy that you can finish in one sitting.
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