Book Review: A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke

For a debutant student of the French language, this book seemed perfect. Stephen Clarke claims that most accounts are almost true, with only tiny bit of bizarreness added to please us. The book tells us about misadventures of the protagonist Paul West or Pol Wess, as the French call him. The Internet tells me that this book was extremely popular amongst the French, which just goes to prove that everything that the book stands for is false!

Neither Fish, Nor Fowl

Paul West hates everything that ain’t leggy and blonde. He hates the French, he hates their language, their habits, their work ethics, their lack of sense of humor, their strong opinions, their lack of opinions, and so on. In facts he hates so many things that when he goes back home for a holiday, he hates everything English too.

The reason I finished the book is everything except Paul West. The book uses short French phrases and most words that my elementary class has introduced me to. The book also gives me a fantastic glimpse into the Parisian culture, their festivals, their infrastructure, their daily life. I often found myself squealing with joy when the professor in my class told us about a certain French fact that I just read in the book the last night. Regardless, I wish Paul West was a lesser asshole.

As per the author, everyone in Paris has an ulterior motive. People are shallow, selfish, and closed. Then he goes on to portray each of these characteristics himself. He begins with shagging his corrupt boss’ nymphomaniacal daughter, reading his adulterous colleague’s emails and even printing it out, to plain walking around the streets of Paris like a dog in heat looking for a mate. His excruciatingly painful French pronunciation not being understood by the locals makes them stuck up French, while he spends pages after pages making jokes about their English.

All this hypocrisy and constant fucking different chicks aside, the book is fun in parts. The anecdotes of recurring strikes and their side-effects on a normal person’s life, the description of the French country side, and a bucket full of insider’s tips for survival in Paris are quite entertaining and maybe even helpful if one is planning to spend some time in the city.

The book can also be an interesting read if you are politically inclined as, fictitious as they might be, the views aired through the book are quite insightful. The bureaucracy is elucidated through witty anecdotes and hence, works for people like me who do not read such a subject unless it is on the front page of the newspaper.

The book is not really fictional, but it definitely is not factual, one could read it if one does not get all worked up reading about impolitic protagonists. I, for one, doubt that I will pick up the sequel that is lying on my bookshelf. There is only so much negativity that I can take.

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