Just a couple of minutes into “The Secret Life of France” by Lucy Wadham, I knew that it was going to be one of those books that you don’t want to put down. I’m an eclectic type of reader – I can read lightweight and I can read highbrow. I have a library with several thousand books and a huge Kindle store. Out of all these books I have my favourites. Books I can read again and again, that I quote from, that move me, that have helped me form an opinion or come to a conclusion, books that have a meaning in my life. The Secret Life of France will join this group.
Lucy Wadham started out in life as English but over the course of more than twenty years of living in France. She has to all intents and purposes become French… and English. Married to and divorced from a French homme, she has bought up children in France, has real French friends and she lives a typically French lifestyle. When I say real French friends, I mean that she has become fully accepted – as a British-born woman in France myself, I have French women friends but I know that my relationship with them will never be as it is with my British friends because we have a different outlook developed in us since childhood. Lucy Wadham on the other hand, having moved to France as a teenager, married at an early age to a French lawyer in a French Catholic Church, has two French children, divorced through the French courts, speaks the language as if she were born in France and understands the French mind set in a way most expats will never be able to.
What makes this book a standout from all the rest is her complete ability to go native and understand the real France – and the differences, foibles and oddities of its people whilst continuing to have one foot intrinsically linked to her birth county of Great Britain. This Siamese twin effect means that the British side of her recognises the disparities but the French side of her understands them. She has a unique view of France and its inhabitants rarely understood by the myriad outsiders who attempt to live, work and play in it.
Lucy’s observations are largely made on her knowledge and understanding of the Parisian elite and intellectual set. Although a breed apart from the rest of France as she says, the point of view of Paris eventually filters out to the rest of the country albeit perhaps a watered down version and the decisions made in Paris affect the whole of the country.
Reading this book made me realise just how much of an ingénue I really am in my new country. I will never be able to truly understand my French friends or they me because I simply haven’t had access to so many aspects of real French life as Lucy has. However, it will help me to understand and accept some aspects of France that have been puzzling me.
I’ve always wondered why French radio is so bad – now I know. I wondered why French drivers don’t stop on pedestrian crossings. She has a theory for this and says “they are rather like Bosnia’s safe zones”. French attitudes to sex, politics, racism, education, consumerism and much more. Lucy Wadham’s take on these matters is enlightening, entertaining and erudite.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the French, living in or considering moving to France, and everyone else! It is funny, serious, insightful and intimate – with little snippets of her own life threading through the book. You feel as though Lucy Wadham is sitting with you telling you all the secrets of Life in France.
Available from Amazon and all good book stores.