Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Year In The Merde by Stephen Clarke

ReReading Challenge: January 2009

Category: Fiction

Series: Yes – Book 1 of the Paul West series

Paul West arrives in Paris to start a new job – and finds out what 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 pétanque. And, yes, they do use suppositories.

Less quaint than A Year In Provence, less chocolatey than Chocolat, A Year In The Merde tells you how to get served by the grumpiest Parisian waiter; how to make amour – not war; and how not to buy a house in the French countryside.

First things first. Merde in the title means “shit” in French. I happen to like the title a lot. *grin* I read this book last year, but somehow didn’t write a commentary on it then, so I decided to re-read it for this challenge.

Here’s a little info on the author and what this book’s about:

Stephen Clarke is a British journalist and writer working for a French press group in Paris. A Year In The Merde is an almost-true account of things that may or may not have happened to him in the ten years he has lived in France, depending on who is asking the question.

This is the hilarious story of Paul West, an Englishman, who arrives in Paris to set up some English tea-rooms. (Eh … all those French cafés aren’t enough?) From his very first day at work, Paul’s account of life in France reads pretty much like a comedy of errors. He tells us how everybody kisses just about everybody else; how to watch out for, and avoid, dog-poop that fairly litters the streets of Paris; the best way to get the best apartment; how to order coffee the exact size you want – just to give a few examples.

The author’s writing style is breezy and very readable. I like his humour most of all. He pokes fun at the French and all things French – but not in a vindictive or mean way – and I could enjoy this because of his obvious affection for the French and France which comes through in his words.

I did find some aspects of this story to be blown out of proportion, where the author deliberately magnifies some events (dare I say, stretches the truth) to make them comical. For instance, the perennial dog-poop issue. If you were to believe Paul, you would think you couldn’t walk on the streets of Paris without stepping on those unpleasant stuff. And the women … you would think they would routinely walk around naked in their homes and wouldn’t even bat an eyelid about cheating on their men.

I’ve mostly enjoyed Paul’s story except for his sexcapades. He doesn’t seem very discerning as to who he beds, and his accounts in this area get tedious pretty quickly.

For the humour and writing-style alone, I’d rate this book 5 out of 5. However, the story does get a little boring in the middle, and I did find all the sexual encounters vexing (even though they are not graphically depicted).

4 out of 5. I like it. It’s compelling, a page-turner.

Since I like the author’s humour and writing-style, I want to read another book by him. Not another Paul West’s though (there are three more in this series). I think I will enjoy this one much more, and it's already in the TBR pile. *grin*


Anonymous said...

I like books like that and I was tempted to pick this one up every time I saw it in a bookshop. Your review might get me to buy it after looking at it for several years now!

The other one ("Talk to the snail") sounds interesting, too.

Thanks. :)

nath said...

LOL, nothing more fun then to poke fun at the French! This book sounds really interesting LOL :)

Jace, if you enjoyed this book, you might try Blame it on Paris by Laura Florand. It's about an American woman going to Paris... pretty interesting as well :)

Seneca said...

Ah, I have never heard of this author before. Thanks!

~ames~ said...

Sounds interesting. I've seen the titles while out shopping and was always tempted. Now I may have to pick this up.

I see my massive tbr pile growing even more. LOL

Carolyn Jean said...

Great review! This sounds like it could be a really fun departure in reading material for me.

Jace said...

Taja: I, too, had looked at this book for many months before I decided to get it. :) I didn't have to buy it though - I got it from the book trading site, BookMooch. I got Talk To The Snail from there too. :)

Nath: I'll check out Blame It On Paris. Thanks! :)

Seneca: Welcome to my blog! :D Stephen Clarke was a new author to me too. I'm glad I discovered him because I've enjoyed his writing very much. :)

Jace said...

Ames: Hi, welcome! :D Isn't it fun to discover new authors and add more interesting books to the TBR? LOL

CJ: Yes, this funny and entertaining read is a refreshing change from the romances we like so much. :)

Kat at Book Thingo said...

I love this book, too, and I've lent it out to a few friends. I read the sequel, but I think A Year in the Merde is better.

Brandy said...

Hmm, while I do read anectdotal works, I'm not sure about this one.

Jace said...

Kat: Welcome! Thanks for the heads-up on the sequel. :) NOW I know I won't be reading any of the other Paul West stories.

Brandy: If you don't mind Paul's sexcapades, the humour and narration are great. :D

Jenn said...

I tend to only read Romance these days, your review of this book has peaked my interest I may have to add this to my TBB Pile.

Jace said...

Hey Jenn,

Welcome to my blog. :D It's always a pleasure for me to be able to peak someone's interest and help add more books to their TBR or TBB. *cackles*

Brie said...

That's a really cute title. Great review, Jace. This is a book like something I've never read before, but I want to read it now. :)

Jace said...

Brie, this book is worth reading. :D A nice break from romances. :D

Sarah Alaoui said...

Check out my interview with the author : )