Thursday, 30 July 2009
The Secret Life of France - Lucy Wadham
I came to this book expecting great things, basically because my life parallels almost perfectly the life of the author - I too am a Brit abroad, married to a Frenchman, with three children born in France, having lived and worked here for over ten years. I could also really identify with the way she is described on her arrival in France, wearing Doc Martens and baggy jumpers and finding it hard to fit in and relate to these people who, although only physically separated from us by a narrow strip of salt water, are oceans apart from us in terms of mentality !
There were times when I really did recognise myself and my shared astonishment or frustration with the author, for example when she describes her encounters with the unbelievably arrogant jobsworth civil servants whose rubber stamps are needed for various pieces of vital paperwork. The blurb promised "a candid and funny account of her long and tumultuous love affair with France, her adoptive land", so I settled back expecting a lot of laughs as she related her experiences. I was therefore disappointed to find the author largely absent, both in her personal stories and her own personality. She describes herself as a fun-loving, down-to-earth ex-punkette but presents us with a series of interesting but rather high-brow, intellectual insights into various aspects of French culture, both current and from the past. I had a hard time reconciling the feisty, straight-talking Brit abroad gently mocking (amongst other things) the excessive intellectualism of the French and the author who uses the word "pusillanimity" like it's going out of fashion ! She almost seems to have mutated into a caricature of the alien Frenchiness she is describing, which is quite unnerving !
It's not a bad book - it's well written, thoroughly researched, it covers a lot of interesting topics with real insight - but I felt like I was reading something off my booklist for French studies at university ! I would have preferred a more personal account, which has a lot more scope for humour, such as "Almost French" by Sarah Turnbull.
Publisher: Faber and Faber (2 Jul 2009)
Paperback: 288 pages
star rating : 3/5