Katherine Pancol’s novel, a runaway bestseller in France, has been translated into more than 2 dozen languages. It’s a predictable Cinderella plot line that is wrought with lively characters and humorous predicaments. Dowdy, middle-aged Josephine hits bottom when her chronically unemployed husband runs off with his mistress (and manicurist) to start a crocodile farm in Kenya. He’s certain that this is finally the get-rich-quick scheme that is going to pay off. He is so confident that he drains their savings to invest in the project. Josephine is left alone to support their two teenage daughters on her measly wage as a 12th-century French research scholar. To make matters worse, her oldest daughter Hortense blames Josephine for her husband’s behavior – she is much too frumpy and dull to keep a man interested. Meanwhile, Josephine’s sister Iris has everything: beauty, a rich husband, a swanky apartment in Paris, and a glittering social life. But, Iris is bored by it all. At a cocktail party she strikes up a conversation with a publisher – to make herself seem more interesting, she tells him she is working on a novel. He agrees to read the manuscript when ready. It is then that Iris hatches the brilliant idea of having Josephine write the book (a romance that takes place in 12th-century France). Josephine keeps the money, and Iris gets the credit and attention. The book is an overwhelming, overnight success. Josephine becomes rich, and Iris gets fame. Josephine, buoyed by her achievement, comes into her own: she loses weight, gets highlights, fights inner demons from her past, and even finds a handsome lover in the library.
Although this is a satisfying Cinderella story, the theme is the age-old moral: money, fame, and wealth are shallow pursuits, and you can lose your soul by pursuing them for their own sake. Crocodiles are used as a metaphor for this – one can be eaten alive by chasing the gold of the crocodile’s yellow eyes.
Katherine Pancol has gone on to write two sequels to the novel: The Slow Waltz of Turtles and The Squirrels of Central Park are Sad on Mondays (not yet translated to English). The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles has been made into a movie – in French.
Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, January 4. Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, January 3 to discuss The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome. The Club meets monthly all year long. Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.