The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles
Katherine Pancol

Humorous Fiction

Le Divorce meets The Elegance of the Hedgehog in this hilariously entertaining mega-bestseller from France

When her chronically unemployed husband runs off to start a crocodile farm in Kenya with his mistress, Joséphine Cortès is left in an unhappy state of affairs. The mother of two—confident, beautiful teenage Hortense and shy, babyish Zoé—is forced to maintain a stable family life while making ends meet on her meager salary as a medieval history scholar. Meanwhile, Joséphine’s charismatic sister Iris seems to have it all—a wealthy husband, gorgeous looks, and a très chic Paris address—but she dreams of bringing meaning back into her life.

When Iris charms a famous publisher into offering her a lucrative deal for a twelfth-century romance, she offers her sister a deal of her own: Joséphine will write the novel and pocket all the proceeds, but the book will be published under Iris’s name. All is well—that is, until the book becomes the literary sensation of the season.


Joséphine is in a rut. She is such a rut that she daydreams about killing herself – in which that would shake up her life literally. But such is life is but a dream. Reality is much harder. Her husband is cheating on her, one daughter, her oldest despises her and sees her as weak and her youngest is love struck and Joséphine feels far too young. Something has to give. In unlike Joséphine fashion she confronts her husband and tells him to leave, and with it must confront her life as a single, middle-aged mother of two daughters.

In contrast is her beautiful glamorous sister Iris, doesn’t have a care in the world is married to an extremely successful lawyer; they have a ten-year-old son. Iris has a perfect life, I mean why shouldn’t she? She is rich and beautiful. But looks can be deceiving. Iris doesn’t trust her husband and feels he is not giving her enough attention, amongst other things. So to gain the attention she feels she’s missing; Iris tempts Joséphine with a proposition. Joséphine agrees to write a novel that will be published under Iris’s name. The book becomes a sensation and it’s only a matter of time before the crocodiles, real and figurative, emerge from the swamps to bite.

It’s the tried and true French take on Cinderella. It’s a fast and whirlwind ride and full of funny personalities, it has got the lot: friendship, family, step- parents, sisterly rivalry, mistresses, royalty, ageing, the list goes on. It’s almost soap operatic with its stereotypical cast of characters. The good guys eventually rise to the top, the bad guys are swallowed up by greed of money, self-interest and power, and of course there’s an immensely likeable heroine who eventually through many foibles gets her man.

While Josephine’s transformation from wall-flower to a woman through writing wakes up the woman confident in her own skin remains the focus, outrageous shallow subplots are everywhere: there’s a plethora of dirty middle-aged men; a neighbor with mysterious lineage; annoying adult-like pouty teenagers; a broodingly handsome endearing bookish nerd; children and teenagers who like to jump on adults laps.

The first of a trilogy, The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles has sold over 2.5 million copies worldwide, and was originally written in French, and ironically English was the thirtieth and last translation. But somewhere along the way it became lost in translation.

The characters were hard to get track of, in fact I felt overwhelmed with the cast of characters and their association with the main characters. There was a shallowness about the secondary and tertiary characters that was hard to get track of.  The biggest problem with the book is how excessively busy it is. There are too many ideas floating around, too many far-fetched plot points straining the story. Another issue I had with it was the focus on the superficial and appearances, especially. And if Joséphine fights it it's only because she doesn't have the money to go that route. There is a plethora of excess and value, that if we only had money it would make everything alright. Of course only from those of don’t have it.

The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles is a somewhat frustrating, very light read, with too many underdeveloped storylines all over the place. There are enough surprises to find amusing, but it's a little mess, a fault that lies squarely I believe, in the ”lost in translation” of the US translation.

Reviewed by Natalie