Found in Translation: Katherine Pancol
Given that I just woke up from a dream in which my blog domain name had expired and caused every post to vanish, I feel I am long overdue for a post—and today, I finally have something positive to report.
I’ve mentioned my love for French authors in translation many a time (The 6:41 to Paris, The Case of Lisandra P., Based on a True Story), so a few weeks back, I headed to my local bookstore (Barnes & Noble, the) with that specific search in mind. I pulled up a Guardian article from 2011 titled What They’re Reading in France and, after searching in vain for Hessel and Houllebecq, happened upon The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles, by Katherine Pancol. Upon reading the synopsis, I was instantly thrilled. The book was exactly the type of lighthearted lit I was looking for—nothing that took itself too seriously, which is something that the vast majority of American novels do. Let’s get into it.
In The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles, Josephine Cortes lives with her perpetually unemployed, overconfident husband Antoine and her two daughters, dangerously beautiful Hortense and sweet, chubby Zoe, in the Parisian suburb of Courbevoie. Josephine (barely) makes ends meet for the family working as a researcher on her historical specialty, the 12th Century. Josephine isn’t necessarily happy, but she’s teetering on the edge of content—until Antoine gets up one morning and walks out the door, declaring he’s running off with the manicurist and has no plans to return. Devastated, Josephine turns to her sister, Iris, the Hortense to Josephine’s Zoe, for advice. Iris, who abandoned a promising career in the film industry to play the role of society wife to Philippe, one of Paris’ hottest corporate lawyers, and is starting to tire of lunching and shopping for a living, comes up with an offer Josephine can’t refuse. Josephine, using her extensive knowledge of the 12th Century, is to write a novel set in that time period for Iris to put her name on—meaning Josephine will establish financial security for her daughters, and Iris will gain societal status as an intellectual with something to contribute beyond being a wife and mother. Warily, and in need of fast cash, Josephine accepts—and is easily assuaged once she receives her first paycheck. However, when the book becomes a national bestseller and Iris’ face is popping up on every TV show and in every magazine in France, their secret becomes harder and harder to keep.
While I’ve touched upon the bones of the book, there are at least five additional minor characters, all of whom play significant roles in the wider narrative, and, unlike in most books, none of them were boring plot fillers—their purpose was clearly defined and tied together neatly by page 425. My one complaint was that, towards the end, a few plot developments got a little bit ridiculous (one, in particular, will have you rolling your eyes), but when you praise a book for not taking itself too seriously, you’ve got to accept what comes along with that.
Like all foreign books in translation, The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles is available in limited quantities in the US. Order from Amazon or call your bookstore to check before purchasing.