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67 of 70 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mix of personal history and French history
Like many others I'm sure, I have a secret fantasy about moving to France based on my many holidays to that country over the years. Having read this book though, I'm not so sure that this is a very good idea! Starting with her courtship and marriage to a Frenchman in the 1980s, through to the present, divorced, but still living in France, Lucy Wadham explains some of...
Published on 1 Aug. 2009 by EllyBlue

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46 of 53 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A very personal account of France
I'm surprised more reviewers haven't mentioned how very personal this book is. Wadham married a French man, leaving university halfway through to bunk off with him and ten months later had a little French baby too. I was fascinated to read between the lines of the book, actually - there is a section which implies all French upper class people like going to orgies and...
Published on 3 Aug. 2009 by emma who reads a lot


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67 of 70 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mix of personal history and French history, 1 Aug. 2009
By 
EllyBlue (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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Like many others I'm sure, I have a secret fantasy about moving to France based on my many holidays to that country over the years. Having read this book though, I'm not so sure that this is a very good idea! Starting with her courtship and marriage to a Frenchman in the 1980s, through to the present, divorced, but still living in France, Lucy Wadham explains some of the differences between our "Anglo-Saxon Culture" and the French way of looking at the world. The areas are wide-ranging, from sexual manners, the importance of appearance, attitudes to breast-feeding, the French school system, French healthcare, social system, politics, foreign policy, and more.
It's a more serious book than I was perhaps expecting, certainly with some humour, but also with a lot detailed discussion of history, politics and France's relationship with her ethnic minorities, and her response to terrorism. Certainly, it will give you some insight into the correct tone to adopt towards your boulanger, but it also deals with other more weighty issues than this.
If I have a criticism it is perhaps that this book doesn't quite catch the diversity of France, based very much on what Wadham experienced in her own circle. For example, she does touch on French rural life, but a more in-depth analysis of the differences between the city-dwellers and the proudly titled French "peasants" is beyond the scope of this book, perhaps understandably, but it is a shame nonetheless.
Definitely worth reading if you love France but find the French rather enigmatic as some light will be shed on the mysterious ways of our Gallic neighbour!
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48 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars TO STAY OR NOT TO STAY, 1 Sept. 2009
By 
DAVID BRYSON (Glossop Derbyshire England) - See all my reviews
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That was the question that faced Lucy Lemoine (nee Wadham unless that is just a nom de guerre) when she ended her 20-year marriage to a Frenchman. She had to decide whether it was nobler in the mind to suffer the talk and habits of outrageous Frenchmen or to pull up stumps and cross the sea to England, and maybe find that better. She had actually once gone along to apply for French citizenship, and had been so appalled by the rudeness of the civil servant she encountered that she changed her mind on the spot. However when it came to the later decision she elected to stay in France after all, although significantly not in Paris.

Myself, I have been to France ten or eleven times, including my honeymoon in Corsica, but reading this book makes me think I probably know the place better from television and maybe a few films than from my stays there. Nothing Lucy Wadham says about France or the French surprises me, and although my knowledge of it all seems somehow second-hand I think I can understand to a fair extent what she is talking about. She starts her narration where she ought to start it as a young woman, with the relations between the sexes, partly but not mainly her own experiences. I am not going to précis her findings: I shall say only that she has a very interesting slant not only on the work/life balance of the French but on the balance between their commitment to marriage, their adherence or otherwise to Catholic moral teaching, and their attitude to sexual relations generally. A lot of the interest of this part of the book may be unintentional, by giving us insights into her own mental and emotional processes. She is obviously very sharp and analytical, for instance, but if the word `love' occurs at all in this context I think I must have missed it.

One very interesting, and for me quite persuasive, insight is her opinion that the French are hidebound in their inherited traditions from 1789 and also in a self-deceiving mythology about themselves. This point the author illustrates from so many different angles that I can't help being drawn into her mindset. She sees herself as freethinking and independent-minded, and I would call that realistic on the evidence here and not a pose or auto-suggestion. Being of this way of thinking clearly creates communication barriers with the French, and Lucy Wadham does not quite convict the French national mindset of outright escapism, but she seems to me to come very near to it.

The book covers a wide spectrum of cultural and political issues, and with one exception I found myself keenly interested in Lucy Wadham's take on them. The exception occurs near the end, and that may have something to do with the matter, say a deadline to meet that did not help her concentration and focus. I really thought that the chatter about M Sarkozy as something called a `sexual dwarf' was a right load of rubbish, but perhaps I ought to reread the passage in due course. One way or another it is not significant enough to influence the rating I am prepared to give this thoroughly intelligent, fair-minded, readable and enjoyable volume. What really impresses me is that not only does the book address so many difficult and contentious topics with gusto and insight, it even provides, on page 64, nothing less than `the key to the French identity'. Short of identifying The Meaning of Life, I think this is as lofty and ambitious a generalisation as I have encountered in many years.

To me a theme of this kind, when attacked with so much mental grip and expressed with such lucidity, is far more interesting and involving than many a novel. I gather the author is a novelist, although this is the first time I have encountered her work. On this showing it will not be the last time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One step better than the usual 'My Life in the Midi' fare, 12 Aug. 2009
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R. F. Stevens "richard23491" (Ickenham UK) - See all my reviews
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I didn't think I was going to like this book. I am tired of reading about the exploits of the young and privileged with all their effortless social contacts. But I was wrong, there's more to this book than the usual whimsical account of the misunderstandings and faux pas of the innocent middle class English girl abroad, desperately trying to fit in and failing... but having a fabulous time dahling!

I changed my mind because Lucy is perceptive and painfully honest about her own short comings and lack of self-confidence, and also because she writes with self-deprecating humour.

She has gone one step further than the usual "My Life in the Midi" fare and has successfully enhanced her personal story with its close-quarter's scrutiny of French daily life by drawing on factual evidence from French social history. For example, she makes some serious points about the complicated social and political legacy handed down from the Second World War Collaboration of Vichy France.

Much is explained about the way the French operate, both on an individual and collective level. Factual information is carefully interwoven with humorous anecdotes; such as why you shouldn't be friendly with a French waiter, and what exactly is the practise of "yaourt" singing? I particularly enjoyed her description of meeting "Sarko the Sex dwarf."

Do you want to find out who the French despise more than the English, and why the French are the "biggest consumers of psychotropic drugs in the world?" Then read on, enjoy it and be informed!

Next time I go to Paris I will take her advice, and remember to "show no weakness", even if my French isn't up to their exacting standards.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tres bien, 19 Aug. 2009
By 
SilentSinger (London) - See all my reviews
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This book, which tells BBC journalist Lucy Wadham's first person account story of how she moved to France at the age of eighteen, fell for a Frenchman, subsequently married him and had his children. Her narrative style flows well and is easy to read and as a result, the book really draws you into her story. I particularly liked the way in which Wadham writes how she immersed herself into the French way of life without losing her wry English sense of humour and scepticism.

The chapters which cover subjects such as the French way of committing adultery `the secret garden', being a woman, childbirth, comedy and education are all well-crafted and blend Wadham's own experiences with published sources. I must confess that I wasn't aware of many of the issues raised and laughed when I read that French women are issued with a special device to tone their pelvic floor muscles after birth - can you imagine the NHS issuing such a widget? The chapter on education was also excellent and in many ways shows up the inadequacy of the English state system.

From a personal point of view, I didn't enjoy the latter chapters a great deal because although they were well-researched and punchy, subjects such as terrorism and foreign policy don't really float my boat. Saying that, Wadham's description of President Sarkozy was very amusing and I won't repeat it here! All in all, a good read and a book which manages to pack in a great deal of information and present it in an accessible way and as a result, I'll be seeking out Wadham's other titles.
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46 of 53 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A very personal account of France, 3 Aug. 2009
By 
emma who reads a lot (London) - See all my reviews
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I'm surprised more reviewers haven't mentioned how very personal this book is. Wadham married a French man, leaving university halfway through to bunk off with him and ten months later had a little French baby too. I was fascinated to read between the lines of the book, actually - there is a section which implies all French upper class people like going to orgies and proposing affairs to their friend's wives, but I suspect this says more about Wadham's husband and his social circle than about French society as a whole!

The same applies for many bits of the book (for example the long-running discussion of her husband's previous girlfriend, sorry, but I found this boring) and I found this a bit annoying hence only 3 stars. But actually, the bits where she was more journalistic and detached I enjoyed more, but even there, cliches were trotted out: you have to stay in hospital for three days if you have a baby in France - I repeated this to a French friend who is a new mother, who totally denied it; the stuff about the French under Nazi occupation; the stuff about their civil service and their sense of rights and duties. I have heard this all before elsewhere and would have liked to hear a new version of the story.

Finally it sometimes felt that there was nothing in this book about the France and the French people I know: generous, kind, expansive, sensual, Anglophile, passionate, clever, proud, thoughtful and terribly friendly. I don't recognise the women who lack 'sisterhood' and who are unable to form proper friendships, shown in this book. My experience is exactly the opposite, and in the end, it's just personal objections on my part that make me disagree with Wadham's account of the country she has lived in for so long.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Secret Life of France, 2 July 2009
By 
Damaskcat (UK) - See all my reviews
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I shall look at France and the French people with fresh eyes after reading this book. I've always thought it is very difficult to analyse a country's culture when you were brought up in it. You cannot get enough distance from it though in this case the author could see France as an outsider and has spent long enough there to be capable of objectivity about English culture. In this book Lucy Wadham who has lived in France for 25 years and been married to a Frenchman for part of that time, attempts to demonstrate the difference between life in England and life in France.

I was intrigued to discover that the media has in general only a limited influence and that the French are not that interested in work for its own sake seeing it as a means to an end. There are some fascinating snippets in this book and if you approach it with an open mind you will find it worth reading.

I found the author's style approachable and interesting though she makes no attempt to simplify her subject matter - which I found refreshing. She quotes many documentary sources to back up what she says, so while this is a personal viewpoint the conclusions she draws are based on verifiable facts. Worth reading I thought.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining personal account of discovery, 6 Oct. 2012
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This is an account of living in France (chiefly Paris) by someone initially taken there by love. Warning - one or two spoilers.
It moves from some fairly personal passages to other, more sweeping, debates about the nature of France and the French. As others have mentioned there are hundreds, probably thousands, of books written by British people who have moved to France. Many are frankly rather tedious; page after page of how wonderful it all is, and how funny the French are. This book is a bit different.
The author does at least try to understand her new neighbours and acquaintances; helped by the fact that she married a Frenchman, which at least meant she had to integrate to some degree. Although the marriage did not last, she remained in France, and tries to explain why.
The differences between French and British culture are examined, and although you may not always agree with the conclusions, they normally make you think.
Overall, an interesting read; it can only be a personal account, but does not pretend to be anything else.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Amusing but mean and ultimately unsatisfying, 24 Aug. 2010
My partner is French and for the first few chapters I enjoyed laughing along to the author's comments about the shortcomings of the French. But in the end that's all this seemed to be about. I finished it with a rather bad taste in my mouth and thought that if I was the author's (French) children I'd be quite depressed that my mother had just spent a couple of hundred pages running down my country.

It's not that I disagree with all she says, in fact, I think there is much that is accurate but I do not see the love/hate/love relationship with France that other reviewers (and indeed the author) claim. Yes she says she loves France and has chosen to stay there over England but gives no real sense of why. I can remember: a preference for the healthcare system, mild (but ambiguous) praise for the schools and (a rather bizarre) explanation of why the Sexes don't hate each other in France as much as they do in England. A rather weak case for loving a country.

I wish she'd given a bit more of a flavour of fine wine as well as the smelly cheese.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Some interesting bits but generally disappointing, 6 Jan. 2011
I received this book as a gift from my sister who thought I might find it interesting as I currently live in France with my French husband. In short it wasn't at all what I was expecting ('funny & engrossing' - I think I may have smiled once & I barely managed to finish it), & although I thought some of it was spot on (eg bookshop manager's reply "because we don't do it, Madame") and certain of the history parts interesting, on the whole I found it a very cold, text book read and a definite struggle to get through. I wasn't keen on her style of writing, finding it quite clumsy & repetitive in places, and although I would be interested to read one of her novels to compare it's not on the top of my list of things to do...
If you can borrow this book off a friend to have a flick through give it a go, if not personally I wouldn't bother.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Secret Life of France., 25 Sept. 2009
By 
sandyt (Haute Loire) - See all my reviews
Lucy Wadham is an entertaining writer but I was disappointed by this book. Perhaps it should have been entitled "The Secret Life of Paris" as I absolutely did not recognise the "France" she describes. The France I have visited for 50 years and lived in for 4 years simply does not match the author's description of sex-obsessed women and cuckolded husbands, choosing the ideal over reality and beauty over truth. Perhaps it is meant to be titillating? She is much better, and funnier, when she is more accurate, as, for example, when writing about the education system. I reached the final pages with the uneasy impression that I had just read something written for the "reality" market, without any real enthusiasm or conviction.
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