GOING FOR BROKE
A Booker-nominated author just misses the jackpot with his new novel
YEAR , a movie adaptation of Patrick dewitt’s 2011 novel The Sisters Brothers will star Joaquin Phoenix, John C Reilly and Jake Gyllenhaal. A darkly comic Western, the film version could turn the hipsterish Canadian author (side parting, Louis
Theroux specs) into a household name.
Meanwhile, in French Exit, Frances Price, a glamorous but caustic
Sixties New York aristocrat, discovers her money has all but run out. She moves to Paris to spend her remaining fortune and to follow an undisclosed plan with her devoted son Malcolm, who has a bad case of arrested development, and a cat called Small Frank, in whom she believes lives the soul of her deceased (and not much missed) husband.
In a 2015 Guardian interview, dewitt claimed to want to write in a way that is “beautiful” and gives readers the “compulsion to turn a page”. In other words: unlike other similarly gifted “literary” writers, he doesn’t turn his nose up at plot. It’s an admirable goal, one that helped The Sisters Brothers entertain, but it distracts him here. After a rollicking opening aboard a cruise ship, Frances and Malcolm’s fascinating mother-son dynamic is interrupted by a cast of thinly drawn hangerson, including a doctor, a detective and a fortunetelling medium. It all gets a bit Cluedo, while the mystery of what Frances plans to do once she is skint isn’t really interesting enough to carry the novel.
Which is not to deny a highly enjoyable read, as dewitt’s style is nothing if not idiosyncratic, and his elevated language — played for comic effect when it comes to dialogue — is perfectly suited to affectionately chiding upper-class mores. And the tenderness between Frances, her son, and her old friend Joan is of the real stuff.
French Exit is perfectly fun, if undemanding (precisely the kind of backhanded compliment that Frances doles out), but it’s hard to escape the sense that it could have been so much more.