Thursday, July 19, 2012

Merde Actually - Stephen Clarke

    2005; 448 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Book #2 in the Merde series.  Genre : Fictional Anecdotal Humor.  Overall Rating : 7½*/10.

    There are many things in this world that Paul West doesn't understand.  The entire nation of France, for instance.  Also, women in general and girlfriends in particular.  This is critical because Paul is in the process of setting up an English Tea Shop.  In Paris, and with his French amie as his business partner.

    Will Paul attain financial success?  Will he find true love?  If he doesn't stop his bed-hopping ways, he's more likely to wind up in la merde than in l'amour.

What's To Like...
    Merde Actually is the sequel to Stephen Clarke's debut hit, A Year in the Merde.  I haven't read the latter, and that didn't seem a hindrance.  There are lots of funny parts, with an overall tone similar to the self-deprecating style of David Sedaris.  About 3/4 of the story takes place in France; the other 1/4 in England.  I've visited both countries, and the author nicely captures their essence.  Ask me sometime about my wife ordering ten cups of coffee in Chalons when what she wanted was one cup of de-caf.

    Since I took three years of French, I was delighted with the many French expressions sown throughout the book.  But you can enjoy MA even if you don't know anything in la langue Française; the author is careful to give a translation of any phrases that aren't obvious in meaning.

    There are some cuss words, and there is a ton of sex, so don't read this if you're a prude.  It's all done in a lighthearted style, and what would you expect from a book with "Merde" in its title?  The humor can get a bit repetitive, and the plot is sparse, not really getting going until close to the end.  I was entertained from start to finish, with plenty of smiling and chuckling; and that's all you can ask for from a book of this genre.

Kewlest New Word...
Smeggy : unsavory, horrible, foul-smelling, cheesy.  (a Britishism, I suspect)

    "Connasse!" he shouted.
    French insults are so wonderfully grammatical, I thought.  Even in the heat of a verbal battle you have to remember to change the rude word for a male idiot, 'connard', to the feminine form.  (pg. 12)

    Back then, I didn't understand something very important about sitting in a café in a non-touristy part of rural France.  The people aren't necessarily unfriendly.  It's just that they're so unused to strangers that they don't notice you.  Or if they do see you, they don't know what to do with you.  The barman knows what every one of his customers drinks at any time of the day, so the arrival of a non-regular doesn't compute.  Why is someone sitting in Marcel's seat when Marcel's been dead for three years?  (pg. 62-63)

"Never trust a philosopher.  Especially an existentialist."  (pg. 371)
    Stephen Clarke is a British writer that lives and works in France.  He self-published the first book in the Merde series, A Year In The Merde, on a lark, and watched as it became enormously popular in both France and England.

    I found Merde Actually in the $1 bargain bin at my local used-book store, bereft and forlorn.  As is true of a whole slew of other witty British writers - Robert Rankin, Tom Holt, Tom Sharpe, just to name a few - we Yanks have yet to discover Stephen Clarke.  More's the pity for our ignorance.

    7½ Stars.  Add 1 star if you're English or French.  Vive les auteurs Européens!

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