dimanche 30 mai 2010

Merde Happens - Stephen Clarke - book review

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So I recently finished reading one of the sequels to "A Year in the Merde" (see my link above for my comments about that book) called "Merde Happens".

Since I skipped a book I don't know what happened in between but in this one Paul travels across the United States so basically instead of mocking France he is now mocking the US of A.

These are the chapters to give you an idea of where he travels (with Alexa and Jake, his two trusty companions who also appear in his other books):

Paris and London
New York
New York to Florida
Miami Twice
To New Orleans
Las Vegas
Leaving Las Vegas
Los Angeles

I admit that halfway through the Boston chapter I was already getting bored. Then I persisted and then got bored again by the start of the Las Vegas chapter.

I started getting a really strong sense of déjà vu (so fitting that I am using that word since it's French ;) ). Not long after the movie of the same name came out, I bought the book Forrest Gump and the sequel Gump & Co. by Winston Groom.

It seems like a lifetime ago that I read both these books but I'll give a quick overview. Stay with me. There is a point to me bringing up these books. The book is similar to the movie but is (obviously) much more detailed. Also, there are many words purposely spelt wrong to give you an idea of the way Forrest talks with his southern accent. Even without having seen the movie you can imagine the way he talks. (on that note I imagine the book would be rather difficult for a non-native English speaker to read because of all the purposely misspelt words).

The second book was much of the same, except, the situations became more and more unbelievable. All I can remember was that after he went to the moon (about halfway through) I stopped reading the book. It was just too much. If you thought the situations in Forrest Gump were a little hard to believe, the sequel is just downright outrageously unbelievable.

OK, so where was I?

It was the same scenario with Stephen Clarke's books. Merde Happens was very similar to A Year in the Merde except it was now the USA instead of France, but the situations just became more and more unbelievable. The whole time I was reading the book I imagined it as a screwball slapstick comedy movie. The situations just got more and more out of hand, so much so that it became boring to read.

Another reason it reminded me of the Forrest Gump books was because there were also many instances of purposely misspelt words from the Jake character. This was actually kind of fun to read because I had fun figuring out what the word (in French or a mixture of French/English or Franglais) was supposed to be.

In the end I did finish the book but admit I actually only skim read certain paragraphs or pages just to get the gist of what was happening and find out the main points.

So compared to his first book, this one was quite a disappointment and the ending is open-ended which of course makes it obvious there is another book to follow, in this case Dial M for Merde.

The most fascinating part of the book though (I will end this on a positive note :) ) is this Jake character who talks like an Anglophone who's been living in France for too long. Some parts I thought were interesting regarding the French language and culture (may contain spoilers):

p. 187. 'Come, Paul, we must leave the happy couple alone. Jesus has been so impatient to see his fiancée.'

I'm not sure if this is intentional or what.. but actually only about a week or so ago I remember searching online for the French equivalent of "looking forward to" which I am told is "j'attends avec impatience" (I wait with impatience). Although the sentence above makes perfect sense in English I wonder if it's Stephen Clarke's Frenchied brain causing him to write it like that, or did he want Jake to speak like that, or, am I reading too much into this???

p. 192. I'd splurged on a new shirt in one of the discount stores near the hotel. Well, it was more a tableau than a shirt...'

OK so it appears that tableau is an English word too but my first thought was, did he actually mean painting? He talks about the shirt being brightly coloured and loud.

p.251. '...I must tell her. I want to change my name to Rimbaud.'
'But he's Italian,' Juliana objected.
Again, I had to translate. Jake was not talking about the character played in the movies by Sylvester Stallone, I explained. This one was spelt differently, and was a French poet.

I didn't get the joke at first (a bit slow there, you have to read it out loud) but after I realised, I thought this was hilarious and very very clever.

p. 347. 'Me fucking up?' I turned to face Larry. 'Me? In this country where oysters and hazelnuts are considered as dangerous as bullets? Where you can't sleep with a woman without going on three dates, but you can fire a Nazi machine gun? Where you can't compliment a female colleague without getting fired for sexual harassment, but where waitresses all have to show their boobs? Where everyone books a window seat and then refuses to look out the window? You call me fucked up?'

This has got nothing to do with French but I thought it was very insightful and funny (about Americans).

p. 378. She'd said that I needed dreams. But she wanted my dreams to be planned. It was the French way. If you want a dream, you go to dream school and get your diploma in dreams.



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