A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke
|A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Kerry King|
|Summary: 27 year old Paul West arrives in Paris to start a new job – and finds out what the French are really like. A delicious, raucously funny romp through 12 months in Paree and a must-read for the 25 to 35 crowd who found A Year in Provence slightly rural.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 382||Date: April 2005|
|Publisher: Black Swan|
|External links: Author's website|
A Year In The Merde was recommended to me by a friend whose sense of humour is very much on a par with mine. I read it a couple of years ago and decided, on discovering that Stephen Clarke had written a couple of not-to-be-missed follow-ups, that I would treat myself to the tale once more as a warm-up exercise to prepare me for the beaucoup de merde to come.
As the jacket blurb says, A Year In The Merde is an almost-true account of things that may or may not have happened in the ten years that Clarke has lived in France. In the corporeal manifestation of Paul West (or as the Parisians call him, Pol Ooo-est, and joyfully, Clarke phoneticises a lot of the conversations he has with the people he works with for the sheer hilarity of it) a 12 month account of life working for a large meat processing company – mooing animals in one end, mincemeat out the other – keen to lift itself out of its bloody beginnings and diversify into the unlikely market of English Tea Salons. In Paris. In France. A realm of coffee drinkers.
The year begins in September – obviously everyone knows that the year begins in September you see; everyone French, that is – and Paul's immediate challenge on arrival in France, apart from getting his new team to actually do some work (given that going on strike is a French National pastime and the second national participation sport, after pétanque), is to find somewhere to live. Not so hard, you say? Well, provided you think living in a garret with shared hole-in-the-floor toilets is romantic and that suspiciously cheap cottages in the EU subsidised countryside are quaint because the local boar hunt has a right of way over your doorstep, then you could be right. In any case, the vagaries of the plot rove agreeably from one circumstance to the next with varying degrees of ridiculousness and absurdity along the way until you have worked your way through the entire calendar year. Well, until May anyway, which is, the reader learns, the entire working year – if you are French.
As a protagonist, Paul West is a likeable, affable young chap whose keenness to make a success of the Tea Salon project is almost contagious (I say almost as at no time does it spread to his French colleagues) and his hapless, chaotic fumblings with the opposite sex are gold dust.
A Year In The Merde provides a diary-like account of each passing month and the ensuing madness (politics, corruption, angry farmers, sex-mad Parisiennes and gun-happy hunters, the list goes on) keeps you turning the pages long after you ought to have put it down and gone to bed. Personally, I loved it and would not hesitate to recommend it. I also learned a useful thing or two in the unlikely event that my husband decides to whisk me off to Paris for a romantic weekend…. hopefully not during a refuse workers' strike, a waiters' strike, an electricity workers' strike or a law enforcement officers' strike!
Along the same lines you might like to try Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson, for the sake of a fully rounded experience, A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle and maybe, if you are bitten by the travel-with-comedy-reading bug, you may wish to try McCarthy's Bar and, funnier still, The Road To McCarthy both by Pete McCarthy which are both, by a long stretch, the most wittily penned travel books I have ever read. Otherwise, if you want to remain geographically Francophile but fancy a fictional wander in a beautiful vineyard setting, immersed in a lovely tale, take a look at House of Joy by Sarah-Kate Lynch.
A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke is in the Top Ten Tube Reads.
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