Monday 28 August 2017

Ahem... France again

A couple more French books today, both very different to each other but both got five star ratings from me on Goodreads due to their readability and that feeling that both authors had poured a lot of love and effort into their individual projects.

First up, Cruel Crossing: Escaping Hitler Across the Pyrenees by Edward Stourton.

I knew that many refugees and escaped prisoners were helped out of France by the French Resistance during World War 2 but details of the route they took were sketchy in my head. I think I thought they all went through Switzerland or out via the south of France to Gibralter. And quite a few actually did but it seems many also went via various escape routes, The Pat Line, The Comet Line etc., which ran down through France to the Pyrenees and thus into Spain. The people helped included allied airmen who had been shot down over Germany, France or Belgium, persecuted Jews, resistance members for whom life had become too dangerous in France and so on. This non-fiction account tells the stories of so many very brave people that it would be impossible to recount them all here. Plus this not a book primarily about The Pyrennees, there's a lot more general information about the war and how it affected the French population. Vichy France is discussed in detail, colaboration... I had no idea there was a sort of offical French colaboration force in the south of France called The Milice. Many of the Resistance considered these people worse than the Germans. The author himself undertakes The Chemin de Liberté, one of the main escape routes over The Pyrenees, to get an idea of what it was like although it can never compare with having to do it in appalling weather, exhausted, with the threat of capture a constant threat. There isn't a lot about his walk though, mainly this is an excellent historical account of bravery in the face of appalling danger and cruelty. I gave this five stars on Goodreads as I learnt such a lot and it really is a very well written book.

Next, My Good Life in France by Janine Marsh.

Janine Marsh lives in London with her husband, Mark; she has a good, well paid job and no reason to move to another country. What she does do is pop regularly over to France on day trips to buy wine: it's only an hour and a half by ferry across the English Channel. On one of these forays, quite by accident really, they end up viewing several properties for sale and Janine falls in love with a wreck of a place in the Seven Valleys in Northern France. The couple buy it and set about renovating it, visiting every weekend they can manage. Then the recession arrives and Mark is made redundant. He drops the bombshell that he would like to move to France on a permanent basis. Janine is completely torn. Half of her loves her job... she is about to be promoted... half of her is drawn to their little house in France and the way of life. What the heck is she going to do?

Well, no prizes for guessing what the author decides to do and reading all about it was sheer delight. It's not an area where there are heaps of ex-pats so assimilating into the local village, becoming part of the community, was very necessary in order to survive. And, as I discovered when my late sister-in-law moved to France twenty years ago, the locals are nearly always very friendly. But you have to adapt to their ways, no use going there and expecting them to change for you. Why the heck should they? And, like us Brits, they have their quirks, especially when it comes to language, so many subtleties you need to learn because mistakes can be embarrassing. For instance if you're invited to a party, never ever turn up on time. It's considered rude... half an hour late is fine, two hours late is even better. And so on and so on. I thoroughly enjoyed this very personal look at the French way of life... how two hapless Brits managed to survive and fit into what sounds like a gorgeous area. Loved reading about their neighbours, their animals, their exploration of the area, it was all delightful. Janine Marsh's website, The Good Life in France is well worth a visit for all kinds of info and lovely pics. You can also follow her on Twitter or Facebook.



DesLily said...

well, you seem to be as obsessed with France books as I am with England books! lol I think what I enjoy most is how much you love most of the books you read. I am glad you are also learning so things about the country. I love doing that too.

Val said...

You do realise you are personally responsible for my "Oh my gosh I must read that " list to be so darn long !!!!!
2 more for the list haha
All kidding aside Thanks Cath! You are such a good book recommender and have given me a lot of reading pleasure.

BooksPlease said...

I thought I knew Edward Stourton's name, so I Googled him - he was on Radio 4's today programme, that I used to listen to regularly. Your account of his book makes me want to read it 'now'! I've never had the urge to live in France - but Italy (especially Tuscany) really tempts me. But I can see the appeal in 'My Good Life in France'.

I've been having problems with my blog recently. The server needed emergency maintenance and then I couldn't access the blog because of 'capacity' issues! So my son came to the rescue and now the blog is a WordPress one. There have been several problems with the importing and me getting used to a new system! So it's not quite working as I want it to yet.

I find it awkward commenting on your blog as my identity comes up as BookPlease- a blogspot blog that I stopped using years ago. And for some unknown reason (to me at least) I can't comment with an open ID. Hopefully you can find me on

Cath said...

Pat: It's really weird as I've never really been a Francophile, even when my sister-in-law was alive and lived in France and we used to visit. But it's just suddenly come upon me. We're so alike in that we like to learn things from the books we read.

Val: LOL... but really it's because we have such similar tastes. If we were neighbours we'd constantly be handing bags of books over the garden fence. :-) Actually I think that goes for all three of you who've commented here.

Margaret: I have a feeling that we're both suffering from a kind of clash that goes on between Blogspot and Wordpress. I made a comment to that effect on FB and someone suggested that they really don't like each other. Or should that be the people who run them don't. I don't know about the open id... I'm wondering if I might have cancelled that due some annoying spam I was getting.

Edward Stourton also used to be a Panorama reporter, that's where I remembered him from. He's an excellent writer and the book is superb. I don't think I would want to live anywhere other than England but I admire people who do make that tremendous leap and love reading about their experiences.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Cath,

I am in the Wordpress camp with my blog, but that has just as many challenges as being with Blogspot. Updates happen far too regularly and automatically and just one small change can cause a myriad of things to stop working as they should. Luckily hubbie is a seasoned coms professional and can usually sort any issues quite quickly, although the latest round have updates have left Fiction Books with some serious holes which need to be addressed, when he has the time.

I always rated and respected Edward Stourton as a journalist and news presenter and I can imagine that his books are thoroughly and well researched, although not of a subject matter that I would choose to read over and above everything else.

Similarly, whilst I like what little of France I have seen, considering a permanent move there wouldn't be on the agenda for me. I am of the view that the grass always looks greener somewhere else, however everywhere has its own problems and jumping from the proverbial "frying pan into the fire", would be a bit too drastic for me.

Having said that, I have friends of friends who took themselves and their two young children off to a very small French village to live and they have settled in beautifully and wouldn't consider coming back home to live, especially now that their youngest child is totally French to the core.

You really do have a 'thing' about France right now, don't you. Have you ever considered living there perhaps?

Have a great weekend and it was good to catch up with you again :)


Cath said...

Yvonne: I know what you mean about updates causing chaos. Blogspot hasn't changed anything for a while now so I suspect we're due something soon which will upset my equilibrium.

Gosh no, I would never consider a move to France either. Far too drastic. Back in the late nineties my sister-in-law and her husband moved there and it was a bit of a disaster. First the husband became ill with cancer, he died, and then my sister-in-law got it. Awful time. We visited several times while they lived there but I doubt I could even persuade my husband to holiday there again, let alone live there. Luckily, I'm quite happy just reading about the country and learning some history while I do it.

Hope all is well with you!

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for such a lovely review... I'm blushing. I really appreciate your kind words, bisous, Janine

Cath said...

Janine: It honestly is my pleasure, you have written a really excellent book.