Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Friday, January 14, 2011

French Lessons by George East - book review

French Lessons book cover
The seasonal holiday period has given me some time off work and for once the opportunity to sit down and read a good book.

And so would I consider George East's latest book, French Lessons, to be a 'good book' or not?

An interesting question, and not one I think I have a definitive answer for. I've read all of George East's previous stories of moving to France, and if you've followed the story so far you'll be interested (like I was) in the latest up's and down's of George and his long-suffering wife Donella.

The previous book (French Kisses) saw our hero forced into desperate financial times and having to sell the Mill of the Flea in order to clear his debts, only to take on new and even more massive debts with a large manor-house on the Normandy marshes with extravagant plans to turn it into a B&B, one of the barns into a pub, and to make their fortune in the land that they now both love.

Unfortunately things don't turn out as expected and George begins to doubt the wisdom of the purchase as they "discover" that the neighbours have a large set of kennels that abut their land (how anyone could miss it when viewing the property is somewhat surprising, but George apparently did), and the howling of the hounds every morning is going to reduce the popularity of the future B&B business.

George tries to improve Anglo-French relationships between two nearby pubs with his own self-styled French lessons to the other British ex-Pats, and English lessons and cuisine to the French locals - with predictable results, but before long he's taken on the idea of opening the first in a massive chain of Anglo-pubs that will span the length of France ... only he's decided not to tell Donella of his latest venture ...

The book itself I felt marked a difference in writing style, whereas the first few books in the Mill of the Flea series had real moments of comic hilarity that I was chuckling at for days afterwards, these more recent books, and certainly French Lessons takes on a more introspective style. Quite a few bits of the story give more of an insight to George's views and feelings, how he feels guilty in letting Donella down with his lack of financial stability and the continued money worries they have, how the new book (i.e. this book) just won't seem to get written and how both he and Donella care deeply about the countryside they inhabit.

There continues to be little stories of the East's life in France such as the thread of how he starts to befriend a local wild fox by throwing it scraps of bacon across the riverbank during George's night-time walks, and over time how the fox starts to become slightly less wary of him; only to be rudely reminded of the natural order of the countryside when the fox breaks into their chicken shed one night and does what foxes do naturally with the chickens.

There's also wry and insightful looks at the fellow inhabitants of Northern rural France, both the French and the British ex-pat invaders like the couple with the phantom Gite that doesn't exist (read the book to understand the full story) and the synchronised chain-smoking regulars propping up the bar.

Unfortunately I personally found that the rib-tickling laugh-out-loud humour that was present in the early books such as Home and Dry in France, French Flea Bites or Rene and Me wasn't there in this book, there were plenty of crazy situations that George gets himself into (and not entirely *all* of his own making), there were plenty of witty anecdotes and observations, and I enjoyed reading it, I just didn't find it quite as funny as earlier books.
Perhaps I am getting immune to the excellent writing style, perhaps it just wasn't as funny, or perhaps I am turning into a boring sad old something as I get older?
No rude suggestions as to which please !

I won't spoil the story but there's surprises in the last chapter; the almost-ending turned out to be much as I thought it would be, but the very ending was quite a surprise and marks a definite change of track for the couple.

Anyway, to sum up, French Lessons is a pleasant and enjoyable recommended Christmas read.

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