Top critical review
on 29 June 2013
A humorous book is notoriously difficult to pull off. This one proves it. Having read the overwhelmingly favourable reviews I expected a great deal better. Perhaps the sub-title - with its emphasis on Englishman & search for an education - should have served as a warning. Being a Scot (& thus easy to differentiate from a ray of sunshine, as Wodehouse pointed out) perhaps has something to do with the fact that, for me at least, the humour is heavy handed & panders to those who buy in to the stereotype of the French the English insist upon as a means of securing an easy laugh amongst themselves. As for an education, this is an author much in need of one. It is not just his often-proved ignorance of France & French mores (& to be fair he is willing to be charmed by the place & some of its people) but his ignorance of his own language & its proper use: there are many examples which should have been dealt with by a competent editor. One can see the thought process behind the book's production - find something that will appeal to an English reader & can be knocked off in three months while taking a holiday somewhere extremely pleasant & call it research for the purposes of reclaiming expenses. It's been done before Mr Simkins: & done better.
Part of the process employed is to "research" French factoids & play them back to the reader as easy filler in place of real, self-acquired, insight. There at least the author comes up with some gems. Who would have thought le Grand Charles, no less, would have conceived Jeux Sans Frontieres as a means of disarming the Germans: but it's true & of course fits the general theme of poking fun at the French. Likewise it is true that Charles Worth is generally accepted (i.e by English opinion) to have been the father of Parisian haute couture. Mr Worth's moustache alone makes it hard to reconcile that "fact" with modern Parisian ideas of elegance. But when it comes to self-acquired facts/opinions this book's worth is highly questionable. Thus the author slates Cannes as impossibly expensive based on the fact that he chose to stay at the Majestic & bigs up Nice, not having chosen to stay at any place remotely comparable to the Majestic, e.g the Negresco. He does not mention the sandy beaches of Cannes in comparison to the horrid pebble plage of Nice. For Scottish readers, the way to contrast the two would be to compare Cannes to Edinburgh & Nice to Glasgow. If only the sun would shine more in Scotland!