Merde Actually by Stephen Clarke

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Merde Actually by Stephen Clarke

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Kerry King
Reviewed by Kerry King
Summary: Stephen Clarke's second instalment of the travels and travails of Paul West, Englishman Abroad. Merde Actually is the 'what happened next' account of our favourite Brit trying to scratch a living in the strike-ridden, bureaucratic, inspectorate nightmare that is gay Paree.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: April 2006
Publisher: Black Swan
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0552773089

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So we rendezvous with the likeable Paul, pretty much where we left off, which was in the arms of his exotic new girlfriend (one of a procession of many). Paul's English Tea Room - a building site of possibility that promises, one day, maybe if Paul can get the builders to actually come to work, to be My Tea Is Rich (the French think this is about the funniest thing in the world to call an English tea room - I guess you would need to be French to get the joke) - is a long way from ready to open and our hapless Franglishman is trying to prove his worth as a businessman and a boyfriend at just about every available opportunity.

You see, Paul's girlfriend (I won't say her name in case you have not yet read A Year In The Merde – it might be a spoiler) has decided, to the unconcealed dismay of her family, that she will quit her job and work at the Tea Room. Before she goes ahead, however, there are a couple of conditions for her prospective employer to meet and she explains that first they must take a holiday together.

What could be simpler, I hear you ask?

Nothing, that is until the car accident just outside of Limoges and the resulting forced detour to stay with Paul's girlfriend's family, who live a more simplified life out in Corrèze. To the uninitiated (like me) Corrèze is apparently out in the Boonies where people live on goat products and courgettes. It is here that they must await the repair of the car before they can continue their holiday and with their options limited, Paul has little choice but to go along, like the proverbial lamb.

The family waste no time in putting Paul to good use – the chapter involving the cesspit is simply crumple-up-and-snort-funny and the events that follow are utterly hilarious, particularly those directly involving Brigitte, Paul's prospective mother-in-law.

Brigitte was walking around barefoot in a long pink cotton nightdress that made her look like an upright pig. It wasn't exactly see-through but it was thin with age and clung to her nipples, buttocks and a coral-like outcrop of pubic hair in a way that made me wish I was chronically short-sighted.

I could quote the funny stuff all day, in which case there would be no need for you to go out and buy the book, so I will stop there.

In summary, Merde Actually is terrifically amusing, laugh out loud funny in places, and an all-round wonderful rove about France. In terms of its storyline, there is a well composed thread that is plenty big enough to hold your interest (though I would have to say I personally was just reading the text between paragraphs that made me drop the book in hysterics) and the characters are simply splendid and riotously three-dimensional.

If you have worked your way through A Year In The Merde and enjoyed it as much as I did, you will definitely want to read Merde Actually. If reference travel with a bit of humour thrown in (rather than humour with a bit of travel thrown in) is your thing, take a look at Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson. I must also suggest A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle because it would be wrong not to and as with the further reading section on my review for A Year In The Merde you may wish to try McCarthy's Bar and, funnier still, The Road To McCarthy both by Pete McCarthy. Completely apart from the travel theme, but if you are looking for a belly-laugh, you may want to investigate the scribblings of Mil Millington, namely Things My Girlfriend And I Have Argued About, a sample of which can be seen on his website.

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