The Secret Life of France, By Lucy Wadham

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The Independent Culture

Most English people who have spent any time in France come away with a fascination for a culture so geographically close yet so radically different from ours. Lucy Wadham's description and analysis of French culture is forensic, yet affectionate. She moved to France at the age of 18 (with forays back to England to complete her degree), married there, brought up her children there, divorced there, and has lived there for 25 years, so is exceptionally well-placed to give both an insider's and an outsider's account.

She is illuminating on both French sexual mores (a friend of her husband's asked her to become his mistress as casually as if he were asking her to join a book group) and the French attitudes to, variously, truth (overrated), feminism (what's that?), pleasure (the purpose of life) and multiculturalism (no thanks).

Wadham is a clear-sighted Francophile. Her attitude combines admiration and irritation, and she persuades the reader to share it. Interestingly, her children, brought up in France, have become Anglophiles. One small niggle: neither Wadham nor her editor seems to know what "laconic" means. Is it too late to save this word?