Almost French

Better Than a Guidebook

May 24, 2005By Nick HammondBooks

Sarah Turnbull’s book Almost French has reportedly been flying off bookstore shelves in the United States. Some readers might well have been reading the book in the hope of finding some appropriate frog-bashing in the aftermath of the Iraq war, and they will not be disappointed. But that wouldn’t be doing justice to a book that does indeed display irritation at the many infuriating aspects of life in France, such as the bureaucracy and snobbery, but which in the final analysis is a story about an Australian woman falling in love with a French man and then with the whole French way of life.

The quirks and wonders of Paris are vividly and wittily depicted by Turnbull, even though her description of excruciating dinner parties suggests that she should change her friends. My Parisian dinner party friends have in no ways ever resembled Turnbull’s stuck-up, conventional dinner companions. At times it is hard to empathize with Turnbull when she claims proudly that she has become truly French by acquiring a dog and paying 84 euros at a dog-grooming salon, but her feistiness and honesty in writing about the problems she faces settling into Paris make an engaging and absorbing read. And her love of French food and food-shopping is mouthwateringly evoked throughout the book.

Those looking for a knowledgeable assessment of French culture will, however, be disappointed: the nearest Turnbull gets to stepping into an art gallery, for instance, is when she looks at a painting depicting the street where she lives. But for visitors to Paris who want to discover French life as experienced by an outsider, Turnbull’s book will be much more revealing and fun to read than a hundred guidebooks.

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