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The Secret Life of France Audio Download – Unabridged

4.1 out of 5 stars 130 customer reviews

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By EllyBlue TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 1 Aug. 2009
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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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By DAVID BRYSON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 1 Sept. 2009
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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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