GO­ING FOR BROKE

A Booker-nom­i­nated au­thor just misses the jack­pot with his new novel

Esquire Middle East - - CULTURE -

LATER THIS

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.

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