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.
Herodotus includes in The Histories a wonderful description of contemporary crocodile fishing technique:
There are many methods of catching crocodiles, but I shall write of only one, which seems to me most worthy of telling. The hunter hangs the back of a pig on his hook as bait and casts out into the middle of the river. Then, standing at the edge of the river, he holds a live piglet and strikes it. The crocodile, hearing the piglet’s cry, rushes toward the sound and comes upon the pig’s back on the hook. He gulps it down, and they pull the crocodile in. When they have dragged it all the way to shore, the hunter first of all attempts to smear mud over its eyes, and if he succeeds in doing this, the rest becomes quite easy, but if not, he faces an arduous and difficult struggle.
“An arduous and difficult struggle.” Master of understatement, no? I understand that in his book “On the Art of Singing” Richard Miller describes an eighteenth century technique popular in Venice whereby the little live piglet is replaced by a tenor, to great effect. Crocodiles are now unknown in Venice canals.
Certainly this blog needed a quotation from Herodotus to improve its tone, but I especially welcome mention of that famous musician, R. Miller. Pigs, tenors — interesting. I dare say no more.
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I also loved it and the words I looked up weren’t in the dictionary. (It’s a great way to update your slang!) Does anyone know if its been published in English?
Yes, Jennifer, reading it made me feel much more current! I just checked Amazon and didn’t find a listing for an English translation — wonder if it isn’t maybe too French?
Yes, it’s out since last year and is aptly named ‘The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles’….
(didn’t read the book, found this page as I checked a quote by this author!)
Good luck should you still be interested in this book
Kiki, an ardent reader 🙂
Well, thanks, Kiki! I’ll have to check it out!