Gentler and more tender than a Patrick deWitt reader might anticipate, French Exit is a skilfully told tale that is brimming with humour and pathos, insightful conversations, and featuring eccentric people that intrigue and entertain.
It begins at a party on the Upper East Side with the strikingly attractive, revered, upper-cruster Frances Price indulging in ‘a night of implied insults and needling insinuations.’ Cold, snobbish and mean-spirited toward the host, a woman of high social standing, Frances leaves the party, gives a passing beggar twenty dollars, rebukes a policeman, and commends her socially awkward adult son, Malcolm, on having stolen a jade-framed photograph from the host’s bedroom.
The abnormal mother and son relationship is at the core of the novel, with both dysfunctional characters distracted by ‘personal unhappiness.’ Frances, despite her popularity, is largely friendless and was neglected as a child by her unaffectionate ‘demon’ mother. Similarly, Malcolm’s insensitive father, a famous litigator whose death is clouded by controversy, snubbed his son.
Now 32, Malcolm still lives with his mother and is unwilling to cut the apron strings and move out of their grand, multi-level apartment which resembles a museum. He strives to learn more about his parents and their rocky relationship and recently he is in a particularly melancholic mood following the recent breakdown of his engagement to Susan.
Frances, ‘meddlesome’ and ‘difficult,’ has always disapproved of Malcolm’s choice of fiancée and has been antagonistic toward the girl, ‘actively trying to dismantle their relationship.’ It’s Malcolm’s unhealthily close relationship with his mother that has caused the rift between them.
But revelations of Frances’ dire financial situation force a necessary change to their living situation.
My review of French Exit is featured today in the Lancashire Post and syndicated to 20 newspapers in the UK. The full review can be found at the web link below and elsewhere.