The Next Chapter

Patrick deWitt's novel French Exit looks at how parent-child relationships evolve (and devolve) over time

The acclaimed author discusses why he wrote a novel about characters who are unlikable people.
Patrick deWitt's latest novel is French Exit. (Danny Palmerlee, House of Anansi Press)

This interview originally aired on Nov. 12, 2018.

Patrick deWitt's latest novel, French Exit, looks at the fates of Frances Price and her adult son, Malcolm, who live in aristocratic elegance in New York. When the vast fortune accumulated by the Price's late family patriarch runs out, the pair head to Paris with their cat Small Frank, whom Frances believes is her dead husband. 

French Exit was the shortlisted for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize

Mother and child reunion

"The mother-son relationship is the engine of the book and sort of its centrepiece. We have Frances Price, who is the protagonist and she's in her middle 60s. Her adult son, Malcolm, is in his 30s, and he's not the most ambitious young man in the world. He seems perfectly content to just sit around and trade barbs with his mother. They're very much a united front. Their feeling is it's them against the world.

It occurred to me that the mother-son or parent-child relationship once the child has grown up — I don't see it that often.- Patrick deWitt

"It occurred to me that the mother-son or parent-child relationship once the child has grown up — I don't see it that often. I was thinking of my relationship with my own parents, which has deepened over time. I wanted to address that — the sense of how that relationship changes over the decades."

Behavioural study

"I can't claim to know anyone like the characters in my book. I suspect this is not necessarily the way the wealthy behave, certainly not now. But it was enjoyable. One of the pleasures of writing is that you get to engage in overt voyeurism. Being a natural voyeur myself — having a curiosity about the different types of people in the world and the different ways to live and to be and to behave. Looking into somebody's house and wondering what's it like to live in there."

Patrick deWitt's comments have been edited for length and clarity. 



To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?