Having thoroughly enjoyed Peter Mayle’s best-selling non-fictional (mostly) account of life in Rural France (A Life in Provence), I long meant to give his fiction a try. I’m not a real dog-lover, so A Dog’s Life didn’t intrigue me, and the jacket copy for Hotel Pastis didn’t lend it to immediate reading, either. But the cover for Anything Considered, showing a cast of characters straight out of a CLUE game, and the premise–an Englishman in France, desperate for a job, places an advert in the international paper saying that he was looking for employment and “anything considered”–sounded so close to a Wodehousian experience, that I could not resist it. Even the title was similar to P.G. Wodehouse.
Unfortunately, while comic and filled with mistaken identities and misunderstood intentions, Mayle’s touch with the material is quite different. I enjoyed the novel, but there’s something missing to it, as if Mayle had all the ingredients at his fingertips, but didn’t turn the temperature on the oven up high enough. There’s no faulting his craftsmanship–the words flow smoothly enough, and nothing is so jarring as to ruin the plot–but the art seems forced, rather than organic.
Bennett is the Englishman who is desperate for anything, who finds himself hired by a fellow who simply wants him to live in the style to which Bennett has become accustomed, with the slight deviation of returning a different name than his own when asked. He goes to Monaco, using this man’s credit cards, living in this man’s apartment, basically enjoying the life of Riley. But there’s trouble lurking, something to do with the truffle market and the Mafia. It’s all grand fun, but Mayle never quite convinces the reader that his world is an innocuous one, and so the reader keeps expecting the worst to happen, rather than just another close shave.
Rereading the above, it sounds like I hated the novel, which I did not. In fact, I bought Hotel Pastis based on my impression of this book. I just had expected more from Mayle, and was letdown by my expectations, not by his actual book.
[Finished 10 October 1996]