Frances Price — tart widow, possessive mother, and Upper East Side force of nature — is in dire straits, beset by scandal and impending bankruptcy. Her adult son Malcolm is no help, mired in a permanent state of arrested development. And then there's the Price's aging cat, Small Frank, who Frances believes houses the spirit of her late husband, an infamously immoral litigator and world-class cad whose gruesome tabloid death rendered Frances and Malcolm social outcasts.
Putting penury and pariahdom behind them, the family decides to cut their losses and head for the exit. One ocean voyage later, the curious trio land in their beloved Paris, the City of Light serving as a backdrop not for love or romance, but self-destruction and economic ruin — to riotous effect. A number of singular characters serve to round out the cast: a bashful private investigator, an aimless psychic proposing a seance, a doctor who makes house calls with his wine merchant in tow, and the inimitable Mme. Reynard, aggressive houseguest and dementedly friendly American expat.
Brimming with pathos and wit, French Exit is a one-of-a-kind 'tragedy of manners,' a riotous send-up of high society, as well as a moving mother/son caper which only Patrick deWitt could conceive and execute. (From House of Anansi Press)
French Exit was on the shortlist for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
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From the Scotiabank Giller Prize jury: "A 'tragedy of manners' about people out of sync in the world, this novel is disconcertingly funny. It strikes postures where a more conventional writer would have been sincere and humourless. Its subjects are effrontery, wealth, death and bad manners. Many of the greatest novels are about nothing so very important, and they last because they are done beautifully. French Exit shows Patrick deWitt's literary mastery and perfect ear. It's an immaculate performance on ice, executed with sharp shining blades, lutzing and pirouetting above unknowable black depths."
"The alternative would be people behaving peaceably and intelligently. What's the fun in that? But I do agree that characters behaving badly seems to an overarching theme for me. The books all are individual or unique, but I am and hopefully I always be fascinated by human behaviours and what occurs when we do the wrong thing, make the wrong decisions or elect to live in a way that doesn't necessarily make sense.
Characters behaving badly seems to an overarching theme for me.- Patrick deWitt
"It's a well that that seems to refill itself relentlessly. It is a source of endless amusement and fascination for me."
From the book
"All good things must end," said Frances Price.
She was a moneyed striking woman of sixty-five years, easing her hands into black calfskin gloves on the steps of a brownstone in New York City's Upper East Side. Her son, Malcolm, thirty-two, stood nearby looking his usual broody and unkempt self. It was late autumn, dusk; the windows of the brownstone were lit, a piano sounded on the air — a tasteful party was occurring. Frances was explaining her early departure to a similarly wealthy though less lovely individual, this the hostess. Her name doesn't matter. She was aggrieved.
From French Exit by Patrick deWitt ©2018. Published by House of Anansi Press.