Monday, January 13, 2014
A Review of 'A Year in the Merde' by Stephen Clarke
A Year in the Merde tells the story of Paul West, a twenty-seven-year-old Brit brought to Paris by a French company to open a chain of British 'tea rooms.' Soon enough, he finds himself juggling a group of grumbling French employees, a treacherous Parisian boss, and a succession of lusty girlfriends (one of whom happens to be the boss's morally challenged daughter). He soon becomes immersed in the contradictions of French culture: the French are not all cheese-eating surrender monkeys, though they do eat a lot of smelly cheese, and they are still in shock at having been stupid enough to sell Louisiana, thus losing the chance to make French the global language. the book also reveals the secrets of how to get the best out of the grumpiest Parisian waiter, how to survive a French business meeting, and how not to buy a house in the French countryside.
This book is for everyone who can never quite decide whether they love-- or love to hate-- the French."
I had serious issues with the narrator of this book... the way he treated and talked about women was despicable and a little distracting from the rest of the book.
Hello everyone, and welcome to my rant. Your regularly scheduled book review will continue after these angsty words.
Maybe it's my ignorance at play and this is how a lot of Englishman are, but it took this narrator the entire book to begin making proper connections with women. Not just physical connections made by spending the night and having sex (not making love), but an actual "let's be friends" connection. I would cringe and feel my blood boil a little more when he'd look at a woman on the street and think about what she would look like in lingerie or about how much of a "love machine" he was and how he'd blow her mind in the bedroom. I know that Paris is the city of love, but does this fact really illicit the number of sex references and jokes that it does? The narrator is pathetic... He wonders why he has trouble getting women to stick with him. He's not very nice to them. It very much feels like all he wants is sex. Not only that, but there are only a few things that seem to occupy his mind: sex, tea rooms (his job), and hating France. It's exhausting when the entire book is taken up by these three things. He constantly tries to woo the women around him, he's in Paris for business reasons, but doesn't seem to appreciate the fact that he is living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. He is constantly comparing England to France and it feels like he doesn't give the country a chance.
Even though I hate the narrator with a fire-y passion, there are still one or two things that I did like about this book. I really loved mentally revisiting the places that I saw two years ago-- the Champs-Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, Shakespeare and Company... this book desperately makes me want to visit each of these places again. Hopefully I will in under a year.
Another thing that I liked was how many French words and phrases were included this book. I got to bask in my French-snobbiness and pronounce the words as I've learned how and even get a little giddy over the fact that I could still understand most of the French words used (a few were new). This really added to the atmosphere of the book, making you feel like you were in Paris. French is such a beautiful language...
I also appreciate the transition that the narrator had when he returned to England and realized that he didn't feel like he really belonged in England anymore, that he had taken on so many French characteristics that there was almost no going back for him. That's when everything clicked and everything seemed to make sense in his life, even if he was in a low place.
Despite the narrator, I really enjoyed the book. I give 'A Year in the Merde':