Monday, March 10, 2014

"The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles," by Katherine Pancol

Three of the back cover blurbs of the French novel “The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles” use the word “delicious.” One says the novel is “delicious, tender, funny, heartwarming”; another describes it as a “delicious treat”; the third calls it “a satisfying Cinderella story… Delicious!” No, this novel by Katherine Pancol (Penguin, 2013, originally published in French 2006) is not, as so many novels these days are, about food, menus, meals, cooking. The word “delicious” here indicates a sort of light, enjoyable read. To further quote the blurbs: The author is “France’s most irresistible writer”; “There is a gorgeous and invigorating zip and sparkle to the writing”; and it is “touching, entertaining, and vibrant.” I don’t usually quote blurbs in my posts, but I think these give you the flavor (no pun intended) of this novel. Despite those blurbs, there is a bit of a serious side to the novel (only a bit): One theme is family dynamics and their sometimes difficult aspects. The main plot line is that the central character, Josephine, a scholar whose marriage has recently broken up, agrees to her richer sister Iris’ proposal that Josephine write a novel about the 12th Century (her field of research); Josephine will receive the profits but Iris’s name will be on the novel and she will receive the credit. This in fact happens, but Josephine eventually regrets the arrangement. And of course it is harder to keep this secret than Iris initially thinks. Meanwhile there are several other plot strands, some highly unlikely, involving the sisters’ mother, stepfather, husbands, lovers, children, and friends. The writing (in this translated version, and I assume in the original French) is fine, and the novel is structured well and moves along briskly. There is always something new happening at every turn. Many of the characters are outlined in too-broad strokes, and many are not particularly likable, but that is OK. Overall “The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles” is a fluffy confection well executed, and thus a good read.

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