Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Sunday, June 21, 2009

C'est La Folie - Book Review

Amazingly despite seemingly working all hours possible I have actually found enough 'me' time to read a book. Normally I only get such luxuries when on holiday so perhaps I'm finally learning to manage my work/life balance or is that my work/work/work/life balance?

Anyway, onto the book review.

On reaching his thirties Michael Wright decides that there's more to life than his job as a theatre critic and together with his long suffering cat sets off moving from his comfortable existence in South London to start a new altogether grittier life in rural France.

Michael plumps on moving to Limousin on the basis that it's far enough South that the cat'll notice the improvement in the weather and yet close enough to England that he can pop back to see his parents from time to time. Nearness to an Aerodrome is also an essential pre-requisite because Michael's also got to bring his aircraft, a yellow 1946 Luscombe Silvaire, over to France and his tale of searching to find a local aerodrome in the rain sets the tone with a wry sense of humour for the rest of the book:
The barman's moustache twitches as he slides a smoking coffee towards me.
'Il n'y a pas d'aerodrome ici, Monsieur.' He rolls his eyes at the other men in the bar as I repeat a scenario I have played out in countless bars and tabacs all over France, where aerodrome denial is rife.
'But what's this?' I ask, pointing to the little star beside the name Jolibois on my aeronautical chart.
'Ah, you mean the landing-strip that the pilots use?' he huffs, sulkily polishing a glass.
I nod.
'Well, why didn't you say so Monsieur?' he says. 'It's up the road, on the left-hand side.'

And so Michael settles on Jolibois and ends up buying La Folie, a dilapidated farmhouse in need of serious TLC. By his own admission Michael is no 'level 5' DIY expert so there's plenty of stories of waiting for local tradesmen to firstly come to the house, secondly waiting for them to provide a quote, and thirdly waiting for them to actually turn up to do the work!

Jolibois is a made-up name for the nearest town to La Folie but it could equally be any small rural town anywhere in France. Michael's told that it'll take 6 months before the locals welcome him as being "one of them" and as the chapters unfold you're taken through the transformation journey. Fortunately Michael has a couple of advantages over many other Brits relocating to France, firstly he took A level French and seems to have a pretty good grasp of the language beforehand - although there are a few 'mouth in foot' moments where he gets the wrong word or the wrong pronunciation - and secondly Michael can play the organ. Now playing the organ might not strike you as an obvious way of integrating with the local community but Michael jumps in feet first and volunteers to play in the local church, and despite not knowing anything about Catholic Mass and the incumbent organist playing everything from memory without any written music, he's soon trusted enough to play at Saturday's Midnight Mass.

The book's full of lovely little stories about the ups and downs of becoming a sheep and chicken owner, of taming the wilderness that is La Folie's garden, of bureaucracy at the local flying club in allocating space in the newly built hanger for Michael's beloved Luscombe, and of the search for a French soul-mate to share Michael's new life with him.

All in all this is a lovely and enjoyable book and one I can recommend even if you don't personally have the desire to up sticks and move permanently to France.

After enjoying reading C'est La Folie I've now found out that the story doesn't end there and the author's written a follow-on book,
Je t'aime a la Folie, where three years later Michael's settled down in his isolated French life with his cat, chickens and the sheep, and he's just about decided to stop his sometimes over-enthusiastic search for a woman to complete his life, when fate intervenes with a re-introduction to Alice, an old school friend, who unfortunately lives in America, in Baltimore.

And so the stage is set for part-deux, conducting a long-distance love affair. Unfortunately Je t'aime a la Folie isn't released yet so I'll just have to put it on my Amazon wish list.

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  • (delurking)

    Hello, how does Wright's book compare (style, tone, depth) to Peter Mayle's similarly-themed stories?

    By Anonymous philosoraptor, at June 23, 2009  

  • Hi there, a good question.

    I'd say that Wright's book is more self-introspective, covering the personal journey of integrating into rural French life, compared to Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence etc which is probably pitched at a more humorous level.

    Both good books though


    By Blogger Geoffrey, at June 28, 2009  

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