“In these exquisitely crafted and turned stories spanning several centuries, the author takes as his universal theme the British in France; from the last days of a reclusive English composer, the beef consuming ‘navvies’ labouring on the Paris-Rouen railway to a lonely woman mourning the death of her brother on the battlefields of the Somme.”
A slight pause in my ancestry blogging as I post here a review of a book of short stories about the British in France by Julian Barnes, revealing, thought provoking and occasionally hilarious! I quite like France, especially many of their cultural aspects, the people and of course the wine. Reading this book took me back into France …. not sure when I’ll go again!
My favourite tale was “Hermitage” about two women who buy a vineyard in The Medoc, Bordeaux, France towards the end of the 19th century. Their tribulations with phylloxera, harvesting, adulterating the wine with grapes from outside The Medoc, the intransigence of the workers are many and occasionally funny. Another favourite is “Tunnel” about a solo traveller and a modern day train journey on Eurostar from London to Paris with reminiscences of earlier such journeys through a changing French countryside. Finally worth a mention is “Experiment”, a short story about how a young Englishman in 1928 gets involved with a Surrealist group in Paris and their obsession with love and sex. The experiment involves determining whether he can tell which of the two women he has sex with is French and which is English …… when he is blindfolded!
Each story typifies French culture from a range of eras or events and the absorption of a Brit into it. A writer, a cyclist, a tourist …. winemaking, Tour de France, First World War, religious intolerance …. all are here.
I’m not usually a fan of short stories, but sometimes they’re handy if you’re travelling on a short flight to Europe somewhere, or 30 mins in Eurotunnel, or maybe a short train journey to Manchester or London from the Cotswolds. But also I like Julian Barnes style of writing whether it be a hilarious rant about the uselessness of cookery books or the seriously deep exploration of Flaubert’s Parrot!