Meant to be a send up of the popular A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle, A Year in the Merde had a promising premise. Author Stephen Clarke sends Paul to Paris to open a chain of English tea rooms. It's a task for which his British company and he think he is well suited. Unfortunately, I found the situations more amusing than the characters.
I wanted the book to be more charming than it was. Trying to figure out where it fell short for me, I came to the conclusion that Paul just wasn't very likable. He often would lament the lack of l'amour in his life, but then he would do something stupid like go home with the wrong girl (as Katie in my book club pointed out, it was difficult to distinguish one girl from another--they were all rather one dimensional). Paul mentions that one of the girls thought he was like Hugh Grant, but I thought he lacked Hugh's charm. In fact, he isn't even clearly defined as British--it's too easy to forget that he is British and he struck many in my book club as American.
I was interested to read about the French approach to business. The realization that the people who work for you are pretty much there forever and cannot be fired must be a sobering one, particularly when you realize that they are not very motivated to do what you need them to do. Paul undergoes quite a transformative process in his assessment of the proposed name for the chain. The French people with whom he works want to call it My Tea is Rich. Over the course of the nine months he is there, Paul goes from thinking it was the worst name ever to realizing that it was very clever in a French sort of way.
Paul often shakes his head at the French's acceptance of inconveniences in their lives, such as copious amounts of dog merde in the streets and strikes of every conceivable sort, and invites us to marvel along with him. Unfortunately, because of my ambivalent feelings for Paul, too often I often found myself thinking, "it serves you right" when he would literally step in it.
I did enjoy watching Paul develop an appreciation of the Gallic shrug. Having had a French kid living with us this summer, I was on the receiving end of quite a few shrugs myself recently. The shrugging descriptions in the book were spot on.
Paul's attempt to buy real estate in the French countryside was probably my favorite part of the book. Observing him navigate his way through literally unfamiliar terrain was funny; if I liked him more, I would have been rooting for him to come out on top. As it was, I didn't care overly much how it turned out.
The book has two sequels, but I don't think I'll be picking them up. Some people just live right, I guess. Clarke writes an okay book and gets to publish two sequels? How does that work?