The Secret Life of France by Lucy Wadham

The Secret Life of France by Lucy Wadham

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Category: Travel
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis
Reviewed by Trish Simpson-Davis
Summary: Lucy Wadham's twenty five years as a French wife, mother and journalist give her ample material to dissect the differences between Us and Them.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: July 2009
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571236114

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I'm rather at a loss to describe this book for you, and I'm still uncertain how to categorise it. It's part personal memoir and part analytical. Whether you regard this particular mix as brilliant or irritating is down, I suppose, to personal taste and intellectual curiosity.

I could write at some length about the fascinating turn to Lucy Wadham's life when she marries an older Parisien in the mid 1980's. Arriving fresh from university with her pink hair and Doc Martens, Lucy is sent shopping by her sophisticated husband with one of his male friends. The aim, Laurent makes clear, is to clothe her body for all to enjoy (provided they are discreet). How, er, Gigi and republican.

After twenty five years, Lucy Wadham's store of anecdotes bulges. I loved her confessions about parking tickets, and descriptions of life as a Parisian mum. Such anecdotes make the book highly readable and amusing. Most of us, after all, have eyed the traffic at the Arc de Triomphe, even if we haven't driven round it. Later, I enjoyed her observations on the easy recourse to pharmaceutical therapies, like the French GP enquiring about her libido and suggesting a quick shot of testosterone to perk her up. So for a casual dip, this personal memoir is a good holiday read. However, the sexed-up chapters of the book are at the front. Thereafter, anecdotal content is downplayed in favour of some quite meaty analysis of the French culture.

From a British viewpoint, there is a surprising state/parental pact to obliterate individuality in education. Again, the anecdotes carry the chapter for me, for example, when the author describes how her three year old is labelled with masochistic tendencies and the family is coerced into psycholanalytic remedial therapy.

Other chapters are grounded in her experiences within the Bourgeoisie, examining how the French see themselves and why they behave in public and private in ways which horrify and amuse us Brits. From her comparison of feminism in the two countries, I understand better now why French and English women today seem so different.

From her insider journalistic experience come chapters on internal/international political relationships from De Gaulle to Sarkozy. I'm ashamed to admit that I was most interested to discover how Sarkozy survives the French media. It's all down to the Secret Garden.

Lucy Wadham clearly knows her stuff. An Oxford education and years as an investigative reporter with the BBC ensure that her material is relevant, her theories cogent. It's just that, having been enlivened by the early chapters, the rest seemed somewhat dry. I'd been conditioned by the first part of the book to expect passion laced with humour. Ordinarily, I quite like meat to chew on, but by then I wasn't in the mood for Lucy Wadham's insightful and useful analysis. If you have a more serious disposition, maybe you might appreciate her interesting view of modern French culture by starting at Chapter Six.

The Bookbag would like to thank the publishers for sending this book.

If you enjoy Lucy Wadham's writing, try her novel Greater Love. For the Englishman's French experience, try Stephen Clarke's A Year in the Merde or Merde Actually. Faiza Guene's Dreams from the Endz might interest you as a contemporary Parisian best-selling novel in translation.

Buy The Secret Life of France by Lucy Wadham at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Secret Life of France by Lucy Wadham at

Buy The Secret Life of France by Lucy Wadham at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Secret Life of France by Lucy Wadham at


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Last modified on 8 April 2018, at 08:20