The Next Chapter

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

Why the Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist wrote a novel about characters who are unlikable people.
Patrick deWitt's latest novel is French Exit. (House of Anansi Press)

Patrick deWitt's latest novel, French Exit, looks at the fates of Frances Price and her 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 is on the shortlist 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, or in Malcolm's case at least grown older — 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. 

The 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize finalists

The winner will be announced on Nov. 19, 2018. Here's how you can tune into the broadcast.