A scrawny puppy walked into our garden, looking abandoned and famished. When it pleaded to stay with those doleful eyes, we let it remain. The puppy has since stayed on and we have named our invitee Holly as it reminds us of the character, Holly Golightly, a runaway in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, one of my favourite books and films. While Holly could well fit into the dog kennel that was built for our previous dog, Angel, a cocker spaniel nicknamed Pebbles, Holly refused to be confined to the dog house, it much preferred to wander around our garden. Holly is free-spirited even though she has become housebound. In unsettling times like this, Holly’s presence is grounding and comforting.
My elder daughter said,“I think I like pebbles more but Holly must not know it.”Holly gets her walk every day and it refuses to be ignored. Pebbles was relatively quite deprived of attention as the children were busy growing up; just as I was thinking that it was getting on with age and felt the rise of guilt for not paying enough attention to it, Pebbles fell ill and it died shortly after. We had not intended to get another dog and Holly showed up on the eve of one of my birthdays. It has been more than five years since she walked into our garden and has become part of the family.
French Exit written by Patrick deWitt tells the story of a sixty-five-year-old socialite, Frances Price and her thirty-two year old son Malcolm. Frances was born with privileges and married to Franklin Price, a brutish lawyer who defended the indefensible. Franklin was formidable ‘ among the highest paid lawyer in the United States, and his every extracurricular investment was seemingly predetermined to turn a profit. Sensible, professional men and women spoke with sober seriousness of Franklin Price as one imbued with dark energies’ and up-and-comers discreetly kowtow to him. ‘His death came unexpectedly’ and the’ coroner who performed the autopsy said he’d never seen so powerful a heart attack in his long years at practice’. When Frances found him dead in bed , she went skiing rather than calling an ambulance or the authorities and the tabloids ran a photo of Frances at an après-ski party that was taken five years before that.
Malcolm asks Frances if she ever loved his dad, she neatly sums up their life together in a dozen words: “ I did, then I didn’t, then I did, then I really didn’t.” In her youth she had been renowned for her beauty and style, and these attributes are still in evidence. When her inheritance runs out, Frances liquidates all that she has and head for the exit . When Joan, her good friend from school offers her a vacant Paris apartment, she goes to France by cruise liner with her son and a bag stuffed with all her last €170,000 and an aging cat named Small Frank, who apparently houses her husband’s spirit. During their voyage, on the ship, they meet a medium whom they meet again in Paris. Apart from the protagonists, all the characters whom they meet are oddballs that include a private detective, one Mme Reynard, a lonesome American dame desperate for France’s friendship. Frances’s plan is to die before the money runs out.
Malcolm is engaged to Susan who finds it painful to maintain the relationship with him due to Frances’s disapproval and her possessiveness.Susan has fallen in love with Malcolm thus .‘It was like an illness coming on; it loitered at the edges of her consciousness, then pounced, gripping her mind and heart.’
Patrick deWitt’s writing is sharp and straightforward. His narration in French Exit is peppered with wicked urbane aphorism such as ‘ Hatred was a fillip and she was glad in her preparations.’ ‘Frances had come to think of gift-giving as a polite form of witchcraft”
The story is dark, a madcap comedy filled with quirky characters and clever and funny dialogues. French Exit is a page-turner and as the protagonist is bent on executing her plans, I find the ending of the novel rather disturbing.