Merde Happens by Stephen Clarke

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Merde Happens by Stephen Clarke

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Kerry King
Reviewed by Kerry King
Summary: Stephen Clarke's third instalment in the life of Paul West, Englishman Abroad. Merde Happens is an account of a journey across America. Picture it: a Brit, a Yank and une femme Française
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: March 2008
Publisher: Black Swan
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0552773515

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Paul West is at it again, and probably not for the last time.

In receipt of an unfair, slightly questionable (questionable that is, if you have the strength of character and bank account of a French politician to go to the Court of Human Rights) fine for refusing to translate the menus of his Parisian Tea Room, My Tea Is Rich and with no immediate means with which to settle it, Paul accepts a timely money-making lifeline.

The job is simple. France and the UK are competing against each other in the US tourism stakes. All Paul has to do is drive around America promoting Great Britain (in a Mini) in return for a respectful sum and the promise that, should he win the majority of votes that he is to canvass in each city that he visits, he will be awarded a healthy bonus. One that will keep his British backside out of a French gaol. After a small misunderstanding with a UK government marketing department and some Polaroids being taken of Paul in a kilt, he sets off, with his best buddy Jake - a native - and yet another exotic Parisienne, for the US.

His first port of call is Boston. Mistakenly, Paul has the idea that as a Brit he will be popular in what he considers to be this most English of cities.

That is, until he learns about the events of the Boston Tea Party and how staging a party based around, yes, you guessed it, tea and being British might not win you any friends, let alone votes.

And so, Paul goes from city to city with gratifyingly terrible and highly entertaining things happening to him at each and every venue. It seems unlikely that Paul will ever win the bonus that will save his skin. Not to mention his Tea Room.

Not as uproariously funny as A Year In The Merde or Merde Actually, Merde Happens felt a little like Clarke was scrambling for an idea simply to keep the momentum of the Merde series going. Don't get me wrong; Merde Happens was definitely worth the effort and there were some truly funny moments; I particularly liked the Indian Call Centre. However, it seemed to me to be a teeny bit piece-meal and frankly (or as the French say in their most disappointed tone of voice, franchement) bordering on pointless.

I get the title and how sh*t happens is an Americanism and that the story, therefore, was likely to have something Yankee Doodle Dandy about it, but I like the Merde series for what they are: a peek into life across the Channel. The French are our closest European neighbours (and before the Welsh, Irish and Scots start emailing in, I'm not talking about you – I hesitated to use the phrase 'foreign language' for fear of a barrage in Welsh or Gaelic) and, if history, more anti-French jokes than you can shake a stick at and my father-in-law is to be believed, our lifelong 'enemies' (again, no anti-Sassenach mail from the Scots please!).

So you see, in spite of all this, France may as well be an alien landscape and all most of us really want to know what it's like there in case our entire Sceptred Isle, and not just Norfolk, should totally disappear under an encroaching sea and we have to go and live there, too!

I would definitely say Merde Happens is worth a look. It was great in places, and still had the Stephen Clarke funny bone shoring up its middle. We also have a review of The Merde Factor by Stephen Clarke.

As with Merde Actually this recommended reading section would have to reflect the same sentiments, namely A Year In The Merde, Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson and A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle. If you have done your homework and read them all but still fancy a chuckle, McCarthy's Bar and, funnier still, The Road To McCarthy both by Pete McCarthy will provide those until you are forced into an ambulance with broken ribs.

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