Friday, 28 May 2010

French Kissing (Catherine Sanderson)

--The blurb--
"Name: Sally Marshall
Status: Single mother
Age: 32
Nationality: Ten years in France, yet still English through and through. I like: Living in Paris, playing with my daughter Lila (four-years-old), the company of good friends, the smell of baking bread . . .

So reads Sally's ad, posted on a French online dating site called Rendez-Vous. Sally left Nicolas, her French boyfriend of ten years and Lila's father, after she discovered that he was having an affair with his secretary. Six months have now passed, and although most of the time she feels like she's just dashing around like a headless chicken, she's beginning to bounce back. But making a new start is fraught with complications. As she meets freshly-single Frédéric for a drink, spends the night with charmer Manu and runs away from expat Marcus, she wonders: can she find a way to reconcile motherhood with single womanhood? To what extent can she keep Lila and her love life separate? And is she truly ready to turn her back on Nicolas?"

--The review--
The recent explosion of expatriate (and specifically French expatriate) literature has proved very popular with the British public and with expats themselves: authors such as Stephen Clarke can easily pack out book signings and sell millions just by breathing. Adding to this band of such writers is Catherine Sanderson, who made her name with the book Petite Anglaise. While it's easy to see how Brits with limited knowledge of France would lap this stuff up, how does it stand up with people who actually live here?

Without referring specifically to expatriate literature, it strikes me as being a little sad that so much chick-lit seems to involve empty-headed women being unable to keep a man and thus being perpetually in the middle of some sort of romantic crisis. While this irritation on my part could perhaps be put down to the fact that I've been lucky, it also smacks of a lack of creativity; Sanderson is no exception to this. I understand that conflict is often a crucial element in a story's momentum, but there must surely be other ways of achieving this effect in writing.

This is not to say that Sanderson is not successful elsewhere in her writing; French Kissing, despite the dodgy title, is entertaining, and the author uses detail cunningly in order to really provide an accurate picture of day-to-day life in France. In spite of the author/character's assertion of often being mistaken for a native speaker of French (I cannot emphasise enough how rare and therefore how lacking in credibility this is; people who get mistaken for native speakers don't get their grammatical genders confused, for one thing), French Kissing is undoubtedly a good easy read that also delivers the satisfaction of accurately portraying day-to-day life in this country.

However, for less artifice, better writing, more original stories and more believable characters, I'd recommend Tatiana de Rosnay (who, by the way, is actually French), even though chick lit and expatriate literature are quite clearly here to stay on British bookshelves.

Other works by Catherine Sanderson
Petite Anglaise (2008)

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