This is my review of Les Yeux jaunes des crocodiles (LITT.GENERALE) (French Edition) by Katherine Pancol.
Lacking in self-esteem, overweight, frumpy and only happy when immersed in research of her beloved C12 history, Josephine musters the anger to send packing her charming but philandering and unemployed dreamer of a husband Antoine. Desperate for money to pay the bills, she agrees to a piece of deception to feed the vanity of her beautiful, wealthy but bored elder sister Iris who has pretended to an admiring editor that she is writing a book. Josephine will produce a novel set, of course, in the C12 and Iris will claim authorship and market it.
This French soap opera is often too tongue in cheek or over-the-top to be taken very seriously, particularly when, at the time of writing this, truth is more ludicrous than fiction in the form of a scorned former First Lady's revenge kiss-and-tell book on a serving President Hollande. The strongest passages are Josephine's relations with her sister and her two daughers, in particular the adolescent Hortense: beautiful, immature and manipulative as her Aunt Iris yet also chilling in her precocious insights. Antoine's attempt to make a living managing a crocodile farm (hence the title) in Africa is a quirky thread which could have been developed more.
The book is too long. Some threads are quite tedious, such as the content of Josephine's novel, which would surely never have been such a resounding success judging by the descriptions. Some of the male love interest is unconvincing – the women are in general made of sterner stuff than the men. A plot-line involving the mystery in the life of Josephine's friend Shirley proves to be utterly implausible and crass. Despite these flaws, and against my better judgement, I found much of the story entertaining, often funny yet sufficiently poignant to make one care about the fate of the main characters, apart from the shamelessly stereotyped villains like Josephine's appalling mother, nicknamed "Toothpick" by her put-upon husband's tart-with-a-heart mistress, Josiane. The final scene is effective, paving the way for future novels.
This is worth reading for the French idioms and current slang, although I believe that the English translation is full of Americanisms likely to detract from the authentic French flavour which adds to the book's appeal.