Michael Joseph £12.99 (352pp) £11.69 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897
Petite Anglaise, by Catherine Sanderson
Mme Blog and Mr Frog: adieu to a virtual amour
Friday 21 March 2008
In 2006, bilingual secretary Catherine Sanderson was fired by her Parisian employer on the grounds that her English-language blog had brought the firm into disrepute. Called La Petite Anglaise (The Little Englishwoman), its comic take on office and private life in the French capital had such a large and dedicated following that, job or not, Sanderson went on to sign a major publishing deal.
The resulting book offers back-story unseen in the blog, and novelistic fluency. Here, one sees immediately the edge Sanderson had (and has) over fellow web scribes. While so many expat-in-Paris tomes are consumerist visions of the affluent, and white, Left Bank, Sanderson has added fresh descriptions of the run-down, though increasingly middle-class, neighbourhoods of Belleville and Oberkampf. Of melting-pot Boulevard de Belleville, she can delicately write of "fragrant, sticky pyramids of dates and figs" in the North African stores.
That said, she fulfils genre demands with standard quips about strikes, dog litter, stiff neighbours and bad tea. Mr Frog, her French boyfriend – and father to her daughter Tadpole – is forever swathed in cigarette smoke, and seems a focus of much resentment that her dream of France has been compromised by the demands of childcare and boredom at the office. Ultimately, it's the boredom of monogamy in a time of loosening family structures that triggers a crisis.
As the blog becomes essential reading for internauts gripped by her wry commentary on French life, she begins more freely to post thoughts on her emotional/sexual estrangement from her workaholic partner. A white knight comes in the form of fan and fellow-expat Jim, while the harried Mr Frog is dumped. The latter's refusal to crumble at the news demonstrates a very British sort of stoicism, but for Sanderson this is all the more reason to throw in her lot with the effusive Jim. An aficionado of Sky TV and attached to the expat circles of Britanny, Jim (now dubbed Lover) reveals himself as shallow, more in love with La Petite Anglaise than her flesh-and-blood creator. The resulting let-down provides this book with wry and often wise insights into worlds real and virtual: the narcissistic thrill of self-exposure measured against the need to protect those we love. It's fine as entertainment but, as with much expat literature, it seems to say more about Britishness and British representations of inefficient, smoky France than about that elusive nation itself.
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