on 17 May 2011
This book has been constantly compared with the works of Bill Bryson and Peter Mayle, the latter being the author of "A Year in Provence". I haven't read either of these, but I have read "Driving Over Lemons" and I would place this "Merde" book ahead of it.
However such comparisons aren't really relevant since this book is very much a work of fiction. To read it is to meet Paul West, an arrogant prat with few redeeming features, a protagonist who, when it comes down to it, is just plain dull.
The book's main problem is that while it is very funny in places, the author only seems to have one kind of humour at his disposal and it wears thin after a while. But for the reader who can look beyond this, a reasonably entertaining read awaits. Paul's journey from one catastrophe to the next as he tries to avoid both the excrement on the pavements of Paris as well as its metaphorical equivalent is strangely compelling. The phonetic renderings of Parisians attempts to pronounce English words are particularly clever. After a while it's easy to slip into it and join the main character in a race to work it out. It's not a book to be taken too seriously.
on 2 June 2010
Unlike a lot of other readers here, I didn't have any preconceptions when I picked up this book, which may be why I actually thought it was an ok read. Just `ok' however- it does have its flaws (in abundance, actually), but overall it held my attention and was a fairly decent (somewhat autobiographical) yarn. Don't expect too much and you'll probably enjoy it too, but if you're thinking this is going to be like one of Mayle's or Bryson's books then you're sadly mistaken, because travel writing this most definitely ain't.
The book follows the ups and downs of an Englishman (Paul West) who moves to Paris to try and launch a chain of English tea shops at a time when the French are still aghast at the British BSE crisis and Blair and Chirac are at each others throats over the impending war in Iraq. The book is laced with over the top French stereotypes of tube strikes, waiter strikes and pharmacist strikes, not to mention pongy cheeses and Parisians shrugging a lot (seriously: it happens every single chapter!).
Granted, there are *some* laugh-out-loud moments during the book; particularly in the beginning when Paul `Vest' is trying to decipher his French-speaking colleague's poor attempts at English, and again when he's trying to convince them to try English `cuisine'. A lot if the time the French don't know what to make of him and it is genuinely funny- albeit a bit arrogant to presume that everyone in a foreign country should know English. The tone of the book does come across as a bit smug in places unfortunately. However, part way through the book suddenly descends into sex, sex and more sex and it looses the plot somewhat which is a shame and the focus on the French and their customs and culture is put on the back burner. The characters then become rather clichéd and all in all it becomes rather sexist as Paul tries to bed anything in a skirt.
If you're easily offended by stereotypes of the French then I'd say this is most certainly one to avoid, but if you're looking for a non too taxing `blokey' read then this is the book for you.
on 16 November 2007
I read this book whilst meeting up with some friends in Paris. It was okay, well, it was funny I guess. But after the initial "oh yes, that's true", and "oh look, I've been there," I realised that perhaps the narrator isn't as funny as he seems to think that he is, as he then proceeds to annoy me ever so slightly in his very set, stubborn and boring ways. I enjoyed this book like one would enjoy a light-hearted book. It was easy, nothing remarkable at all, and does not require much thought. It wasn't so much the stereotyping that annoys me since all travel writing involves some of that. Bill Bryson, who I love, when writing about his stay in Copenhagan, writes, "the Danes" many times. The generalisation cannot be helped as it is not easy to get into the culture and get to know many people and get a sense of the diversity when one is on a short stay. But the narrator in this book is not on a short stay. He is suppose to be working in Paris for one year.
No wonder he has such a hard time. He seems to point-blank refuse to try and improve his language and in so doing help himself to get around better. He is very often arrogant, smug and forming opinions of that of someone so narrow-minded that he really shouldn't be travelling and expecting to enjoy the experience, if he is so set in his ways and refuses to adapt in even the slightest degree. I know that Paris can be chaotic and what he experiences, especially strikes, are very true to life. But he seems to be the kind of travellers with such a mentality as to never doing another country justice even if he does not encounter as many problems as he has.
I enjoyed this book as much as one would an airport fiction. It is on its way to the charity shop now that I am done with it, hopefully the next person would get more of a laugh out of it.
Amusing in parts -- it certainly raised a smile in each chapter -- this book may be, but for my liking it was a little hit-and-miss. The chapters are broken up into sections of a few sides each, which gives the book a bit of a staccato feel -- like a series of anecdotes and amusing observations. Clarke doesn't have the storytelling abilities or buffoonery of Bryson -- I know, give him time, this is his first book -- or the dry wit and cynicism of Tim Moore, but he certainly has a style all of his own.
Despite the laughs at the expense of the French this is an affectionate look at France and the French (or Paris and the Parisians) from the eyes of an Englishman who, on returning to Blighty, realises just how much it has changed him. This book is really worth more than three stars, but not quite four.
on 7 October 2005
Well, it's very funny. And I didn't want to find it funny. Reason: I've lived in France, and expected this to be the usual lame collection of stereotypes and dull anecdotes masquerading as original lampoon/satire. There are a few clichés, but Clarke is a talented writer and he disguises them well. Plus there's enough authentic observation of national characteristics to keep the thing moving along nicely, and to provoke some nice belly laughs. Moreover, there's a jolly storyline that keeps you gagging for more.
Clarke's no Bryson, but that's OK. This is a good read and a lot of fun. If you know a bit about France - and especially if you've worked there - you'll guffaw lavishly.
PS If you've ever wondered why France has one of Europe's highest rates of unemployment and a sloth-like economy, this book explains everything. And on this score, it's totally accurate.
on 5 April 2011
I've read many reviews here that say the book is unfunny. That it is sexist, and that it is boring. Well, if you've lived in France for more than a couple of months, you will find pretty much everything the man has to say about the french not only hilarious, but completely true. Office life is boring, personal relationships frustrating and dog excrement real (although this is being tackled by the Mairie nowadays).
So if you haven't been to Paris to live and not to travel (most of the subtleties don't show until you actually have to rent an flat, have a boss and work colleagues, get ill and have to go to a pharmacy, or endure a strike, which usually takes more than a couple of days) you will most definitely not fully understand the frustration encapsulated in the book, like a Californian watching a Dylan Moran rant about London youths.
If you already are an expat, or plan on becoming one, this book will be one of the most valuable items you'll have in your bag.
on 4 November 2008
I thought I'd give this a read as it appeared to be a light-hearted, short, "comedy" novel set in a country I've enjoyed many a visit to. I guess after reading it, it proved to be exactly what I expected although it didn't really hit the spot with me.
I can't help but think that in today's market there are just too many average books out there. Ok, it's certainly not a bad read & I'm sure the author is well-placed to base a whole book (and indeed sequels) on the differences bewteen French & English cultures but there's just nothing particularly clever, funny or indeed original about it.
With just a little more talent & desire, I'm sure there's thousands of us who could sit down and sketch out the overall plot of a book such as this and then get down to writing 300 well-spaced pages about an unsuspecting "hero".
All-in-all I wouldn't particularly recommend this unless you were a Brit-in-France or managed to pick it up in the bargain-bin of your local bookstore. Far better stuff out there.
on 2 March 2006
I'm French, lived in London for many year. I understand about the reviewer who said he looked 'bazarre' when he laughed aloud on the plane! I laughed so much, I couldn't even read out a sentence to my husband, chuckling as I was! Knowing both cultures helps of course. It reminds me of Daninos' Articles in Le Figaro, when I was young about 'Major Thompson' which became a best seller. Of course it's nothing like literature - the reviewer who said how badly written! - for goodness'sake, let's have a good laugh and look at how strange our daily habits seem to others. The Chinese cannot understand that we blow our 'excrement' out of our nose and carefully fold them away in a piece of tisuue and worse, save it in our pockets!
on 4 December 2007
It could be said that in comparison with other books of the travel literature genre, this fails to give the reader a significant insight into Parisian/French life. If that is what you are looking for, try something else. However, I dont think that that was the intention of the book in the first place. It is more of an entertaining story about an Englishman's misfitted life in France, with the aim to make one laugh- which it does successfully. Many of the stories, although not false, are sometimes very exaggerated, but the author puts his point across in a very hard-hitting way. One could say he is like Bryson, but with less subtlety, and more cheap humour.
If you are looking for depth, look elsewhere. For a (suprisingly) short book, that will be completed in a day or so, for some great amusement, i recommend this!
on 9 February 2010
Hardly a great literary masterpiece, but entertaining enough if you aren't expecting to be too intellectually challenged. I've spent many years in France and do object to some of the 'onion Johnny' clichés, but all in all, as I said, a light-hearted read, not to be taken seriously.