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Being someone that is generally behind the times with her reading, I have only just read a book that was first published in 2004, which I myself purchased in about 2006, and then finally read in 2008. Despite the obvious reflections about life in 2003 (the year that the story was set in, just to add further confusion to my readers) which have the effect of dating the text somewhat, it was a very funny read and I found it a real page turner of a book.
The book in question, is A Year In The Merde, by Stephen Clarke. It is the tale of a man who is offered a year's contract by a French business man he had previously met in London. The current businessman's interests were meat products and offal. The business man, Jean-Marie Martin, wanted our hero, Paul West, to help him diversify into setting up English tea shops in Paris, to bring tea drinking to the nation of Coffee drinkers. So, Paul gives up his life in the UK, and throws himself into the Parisian lifestyle at the beginning of the year - the French year, that is, that starts in September. The end of the year is infact May!
The style of the book is in diary fashion. So each chapter starts with the French month, therefore, starts with Septembre. We follow our hero as he tries to make sense of the French way of life, and this takes us through the first few chapters, as he settles into a very slow pace, and the various customs that are quite alien to British people, and uncomfortable, such as all the kissing that goes on. A good friend would expect no less than six kisses (three each side of the face) or it could cause offence - even with men. Imagine that down your local on a Friday night!
There is the undercurrent through the second half of the book, where the Gulf War is taking hold, and the anti American and British feel in Paris. Also, there is an interesting political discussion, presented as a chat between Paul and a girlfriend, which puts across some viewpoints I hadn't thought of at the time. The story, although about the French way of life versus the British way, and the antics of Paul and his new life, also has an additional story line of deception and intrigue. And that is all I will say of the plot, as I don't want to ruin it for anyone else.
We are also privvy to life as a young man. There is an observation that men think of sex every 6 minutes (or is that seconds??). Well, this is very apparent in this book, as Paul generally considers the sexual worth of each of the women he meets, regardless of age, marital status, etc. We accompany him on his one night stands, and long term relationships, and the mistakes he makes whilst under the influence of alcohol - very funny.
Suffice to say, that I really enjoyed it. The story was not predictable, like so many others that I have read (mainly because I read a lot of rubbish Chicklit generally). Also, the fact that this was semi autobiographical, and based on the author's own observations of living in Paris. It was very interesting to read about how the French view their lives, and their rights, and it explains a great deal! During the course of reading this novel, I was driving (not at the same time, of course) down the M20 in Kent, and overhead there was the usual signage telling us that 'Operation Stack' was in situ. It has become so commonplace to have the French dock workers on strike, that the M20 becomes a lorry park several times a year, until the French get themselves back to work.
I have a sister who lives in France, and while reading the book, it put me in mind of conversations with her, about trying to get work done on their property, but all the bureaucracy that goes with it, and then the holidays, strike action, etc.. I think it would do our country good to adopt some of the French lifestyle, as I imagine they are a great deal less stressed than we are.
It is not anti-French really, and in fact, as anyone who has lived abroad would appreciate, the culture shock is more about when you return back home. You really don't realise how much you adapt to your new home, a place you have chosen to move to and thrown yourself into the culture of, only to find when you return home, you feel like a fish out of water, and it takes a while to settle back into the old ways. It is written in a funny way, and takes a gentle stab at the French way way of life, but it is a tongue in cheek way, really. After all, the author has not returned to Britain, but has made his life in France.
A Year In The Merde is the first book in a series of four. The latest book was released in September 08, and is called Dial M for Merde (clever, huh?). The other books in the series are Merde Actually, and Merde Happens.
So a little bit about our author, Stephen Clarke. And this is the correct version of events, as I found the information from his very own website.
Stephen Clarke grew up in Bournemouth, Dorset, and completed his education at Oxford where he studied French and German. In leaving Uni, he got some dead end jobs and also, played as a bass guitarist in 'some of the worst rock bands in musical history'. He has always enjoyed writing novels, but couldn't find anyone to publish them (he felt that there was a conspiracy!).
He originally moved to Paris, not to open tea rooms, but in real life to work as a journalist on an English-language magazine. He continued to write his novels, and decided to set up his own 'publishers' - basically, he printed them off himself, and trundled around with a shopping trolley, trying to sell them - called 'Red Garage'publishing. Then, things picked up and his books were published by Bantam Press; The rest, as they say, is history.
As I hope you can tell, I really enjoyed the read, and look forward to popping out to Waterstones' to buy the next book in the series.
So some technical details:
ISBN 0-552-77296-8 Amazon price £5.49 Random House website £7.19
Really a very good review!I will try my best to my practise English .
Fuzzy98 04.02.2009 12:52
Sounds an interesting book :o) You're not the only one who has not caught up on reading - i barely find the time to read anything more than a newspaper or a magazine at the moment! Must try harder really... And i think you'll find it's every 6 seconds that men think about sex (or perhaps that was just my exes lol) xx
SweetTooth93 24.01.2009 16:50
It isn't the kind of book i'd read but this really was a super review xx
Paul West, a young Englishman, arrives in Paris to start a new job - and finds out what ... more
the French are really like They do eat a lot of cheese, some of which smells like pigs' droppings. They don't wash their armpits with garlic soap. Going on strike really is the second national participation sport after petanque. And, yes, they do use suppositories. In his first novel, Stephen Clarke gives a laugh-out-loud account of the pleasures and perils of being a Brit in France. Less quaint than "A Year in Provence", less chocolatey than "Chocolat", "A Year in the Merde" will tell you how to get served by the grumpiest Parisian waiter; how to make perfect vinaigrette every time; how to make amour - not war; and how not to buy a house in the French countryside