French chick-lit: who knew? And enormously popular at that: the mass market version of this book is #81 on amazon.fr. I suppose in English it would have been a guilty pleasure but of course I persuaded myself that I was improving my French. Not that I spent much time with the dictionary open: that would have interrupted the story.
I don’t normally read French contemporary fiction so I can’t tell how Les Yeux jaunes des crocodiles stacks up against its peers. It’s more capacious than, say, The Nanny Diaries or The Devil Wears Prada — you don’t get to 650 pages without following a lot of characters. The main focus is on a pair of sisters, the lovely, spoiled Iris and the hardworking Cinderella named Joséphine. They live in Paris, Iris in luxury near the Bois de Boulogne (what they call “un beau quartier”) and Joséphine in suburban and therefore un-chic Courbevoie. Joséphine’s husband leaves her for a manicurist, and this gets the story rolling.
Some of it is silly — or should I not take it seriously when a character gets eaten alive by crocodiles? I had a little trouble, too, with the woman who turned out to be Queen Elizabeth II’s love child: is this some intellectual French commentary on…. something? Or just a piece of extremely far-fetched plotting? Overall, though, it’s enormously readable. The “good” characters are hugely likable and the “bad” ones are fun to loathe. In a way it reminded me of Judith Krantz without the sex. Part of what made those Krantz novels so popular was that it was fun to inhabit their world for a while, and this was what kept me enchanted with Les Yeux jaunes... It was a cheap-thrills version of a Paris vacation, with special insider access to the lives of all those people you wonder about when you see them sitting in cafés looking chic.