THE YELLOW EYES OF CROCODILES
By Katherine Pancol
Translated from the French by William Rodarmor and Helen Dickinson
Penguin. 435 pp. Paperback, $16
“The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles,” which has been a runaway bestseller in France and translated into more than two dozen languages, seems at first to follow a traditional women’s-novel formula: A drab middle-aged housewife is deserted by her caddish husband, roundly tormented by her bratty adolescent daughter and forced to pinch pennies and take odd jobs. The strength of her virtue finally shines through, and she loses weight, gets highlights in her hair, earns enough money to justly be called rich, and ends up with a darling boyfriend, while her ex-husband dies an ignominious death. Except that this book is set in Paris, and the author is seriously French, so it’s really about money — what it can and cannot buy. (Just as “Madame Bovary ,” although it’s all about infidelity, is really about money: She kills herself not for love but because she can’t pay the bills for her wild extravagance.)
But “Crocodiles” is a comedy. At the beginning, Jos
It turns out, of course, that Iris’s blather and bravado are just that. She’s going crazy doing nothing, realizing that no matter how beautiful she may be, a wife is just a wife and has to have at least some accomplishment to back her up. Desperate to have attention paid to her, she comes up with a hare-brained scheme: Jo will write a historical novel set in the 12th century; beautiful Iris will go on talk shows and take credit for it. Jo will get the money and Iris, the admiration.
As you can imagine, not everything goes as planned. Pancol peoples her story with maybe a dozen other characters, several of them teenagers. Without exception, they’re disagreeable (you might call them “French”). Even long-suffering Jo slugs Hortense every once in a while. The author notes that the gold in the eyes of the crocs in Kenya represents the money everyone values above all else. There’s a three-part ending here that’s utterly preposterous, but hey, nothing’s perfect! — and this is a satisfying read.
See regularly reviews books for The Washington Post.