Monday, January 28, 2013
The Marseilles Caper by Peter Mayle
Peter Mayle was not a novelist first, though by now he has probably spent more time at it than at his earliest employment in advertising. He is a man of many talents who writes to stay amused, one imagines, and to keep a crust on his table. Perhaps we should be thankful to him for sharing his time and stories with us, for he is clever and cogent and observant of his fellow man--especially his fellow French man. One imagines him to have a wide circle of friends and he no doubt takes advantage of opportunities that come his way from among his even wealthier and/or less judicious acquaintances. For the most part, he leaves judgment of political correctness to us.
This novel is a bit of lighthearted fun, set in sunny Marseilles. We are treated to descriptions of bistros and menu offerings, nearby towns and vistas. We see some of the byzantine calculations that go into town council approvals for seaside developments, and enjoy the totally ridiculous and over-the-top attempts to savage competitors working on the same projects.
If I say the the book feels weightless, it is perhaps because the novel is meant to be entertainment alone. If I felt it retrogressive--a return to less environmentally aware time of outrageous spending and revolting excess--that is perhaps because I have seen the result of massive inequalities in earnings and it no longer amuses me as much--at all, really. But I still like Peter Mayle (who could not, really?) and look forward to a time when he again writes something with more depth. I should mention that Mayle's central character chose low-impact designs for a Marseilles seaside development and in this way he is more "current" than his competitors, but the tone of the novel still felt old-fashioned. Low-impact designs are not particularly a new thing, though I guess the point is that approvals in Marseilles are still mired in pre-revolutionary France.
I listened to the audio of this book, read by Robin Sachs. Robin Sachs is wonderfully talented and experienced, but his American accent sounded a little like James Cagney or Humphrey Bogart...contributing to that old-fashioned feel. The whole thing felt like a throwback to an earlier time when reading about wealthy folks was more fun.
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