Okay, time for another one I found on a train. I can’t remember which journey it was but I do get itchy fingers when I see people leave paperbacks lying around. It’s a sickness.
Exiles follows the story of Kate Howard, an author who voluntarily moves to France with her asshole partner, Stewart. She is a successful author whose life starts to mildly fall apart when she tries to change genre and her publisher doesn’t like it.
The story follows a small community of expats who have decided that France is a better option than England as they all basically whine, whinge and eat their way through the French countryside. The book is 376 pages long but there isn’t much of a story, where a story is defined as having a beginning, middle and end. I mean, it does go from A to B, but B is so close to A it makes the middle bit look a bit dragged out.
Exiles is a very tricky book for me to review in that it’s not my normal genre – and not one I picked myself. The first thing I commented on was in the first couple of pages where Kate is describing her life with Stewart. She makes him out to be this perfect man who does everything right... then she goes on to have an interaction with him where she makes him look like an ass.
The first example of this is on page 7 where both of them come off looking like dicks. Stewart doesn’t know how Kate likes taking her tea. This seems like a fairly basic thing to get right after a few years of cohabitation and there are two trails of thought here. Either Kate hasn’t told Stewart and after not drinking any of his tea for years, that she doesn’t like it... or Stewart thinks that the way Kate takes her tea is how a man should take it and so he continues to make her tea she doesn’t like because he’s just a dick.
It becomes apparent that it’s the former when on page 9. Kate states that she can’t tell a hairdresser that she doesn’t like what she does to her hair. Even though she is paying her for the service. To me, Kate is not, an engaging or likeable character and this became clear in the first 10 pages of the book. By chapter 4 she establishes herself as a character who orders food she doesn’t want to eat, drinks things that she is not in the mood for, likes people that she doesn’t like and does things she doesn’t want to do.
This behaviour continues over the next few pages. Apparently she doesn’t like arguments but this is followed by massive fallouts with shouting, fits of violence and throwing stuff. Then followed by narrative fits of, ‘what have I become?!’ It’s mental. And that’s without starting on Stewart.
Mr Perfect is a fucking wanker from the get go. And this is what really confuses me about the book as a whole. Normally you get to see an event or cause that drives a character to change but Exiles outlines that these characters are lovely before showing us that they are not.
Some instances of Stewart being a wanker are when he kicks off at the published author for spending money on Pretty Good Solitaire when he is pissing all their money away on wine that he doesn’t drink. This irritated me greatly as I actually bought Pretty Good Solitaire when I didn’t have an income. It costs £9.99 now and probably even less when the book was written in 2001.
There are lots of other little bits like this throughout the book and these are just small examples of Stewart being a cock, but I actually got to the stage where I believed that this was an intentional narrative style that was supposed to funny rather than taken seriously.
The title sums itself is an oxymoron and microcosm of the book’s contents. To be in exile means to be away from ones home while either being explicitly refused permission to return or being threatened with imprisonment or death upon return. Every English character in the book has chosen to leave England and live in France in a community of ex-pats. So they are exiles by any stretch of the imagination. And some of them haven’t even bothered to learn French! It just sums up the British need to complain while highlighting the majority of British ex-pats have no respect for other countries, even if we chose to live there.
Exiles by Anita Burgh was published by Orion books in 2001. RRP £5.99 (Paperback)