cover image The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles

The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles

Katherine Pancol, trans. from the French by William Rodarmor and Helen Dickinson. Penguin, $16 trade paper (448p) ISBN 978-0-14-312155-8

The English translation of Pancol’s runaway French bestseller is a satisfying Cinderella story. Middle-aged Joséphine has hit bottom: she’s thrown out her husband for cheating with a younger woman and now must support their daughters on a researcher’s salary while the rest of her wealthy family take jabs at her choices. Her teenage daughter, Hortense, emerges as a confident and driven sexual powerhouse who treats her dowdy mother with angry contempt. But Joséphine’s socialite sister, Iris, has connections in the publishing world and proposes a bargain: Joséphine will use her knowledge of the 12th century to write a novel; the money will go to her and the credit to Iris. Pancol is at her most interesting when she writes about Joséphine’s financial worries and the anxiety that hangs over the family; the giddy relief when money comes her way is delicious. Other elements are more formulaic—the highlighted hair, the gorgeous new lover, the best friend with secret reserves of wealth and a great deal of influence. The too-literal translation often doesn’t make sense of French idioms (one likens Joséphine’s stepfather to an “old toad on a matchbox”). But nevermind the toads; the stars are aligned in Joséphine’s favor, and readers will stay with her until the glass slipper is firmly back on her foot. (Jan.)