The novel A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke was published in 2004 under the pen name Paul West. Clarke later revealed his identity as the author after the novel gained worldwide success. This funny book follows the story of main character Paul West, a British man who moves to France after he is hired to open a chain of tea rooms in Paris, France. The novel is set in 2002 and 2003, a time in France where many citizens were in upheaval due to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Clarke pokes fun at stereotypical French citizens throughout the novel as well as pointing out the many flaws of the country’s leaders.
The novel leads through humorous twists and turns as the Englishman attempts to navigate his way through the French culture. Paul West is British, but works to fit in with his new surroundings, often with the goal of furthering himself or his sex life. He often comments on the country using metaphors, including frequent comments about the amount of dog excrement in Paris, France. The novel also closely follows a series of relationships in West’s time in Paris, including a woman named Florence whom he is with at the novel’s conclusion. In poking fun of the French culture throughout the novel, author Stephen Clarke uses humor to explain the way in which the country deals with cultural differences.
Further adding to the humor is Paul West’s boss Jean-Marie Martin, a man he describes as smooth talking, wealthy and slick. He has paid West a hefty salary to plan for the chain of tea rooms in Paris, but has what could be described as a motley crew to support him in this venture. Their lack of support and ultimately their unwillingness to listen to West’s ideas lead to frustrating situations for the character. This leads to some twist and turns along the way, but ultimately ends with West’s firing from his job after he realizes he is essentially being paid to do nothing. After the frustrating end to his position in Paris, he works shortly as an English language teacher in Paris. At the novel’s conclusion, he ironically states his wishes to open a tea room in Paris, France.
This funny book is entertaining and sure to appeal to readers of both satire and political and cultural interests.