Frenchwomen in books. A contentious subject. And after a tough week it provides us with a basis for some “fun” here this morning. 🙂
Recently in the UK Telegraph, French journalist Anne-Elisabeth Moutet lashed out at a “cottage industry” that she asserts portrays a ridiculously inaccurate picture of life in France, and especially of Frenchwomen, as the national norm:
…there is supposedly no task we Françaises cannot perform at a higher level than the rest of humanity, in five-inch heels and a Thierry Mugler cinched dress while humming La Vie En Rose and cooking Poularde Albuferra for 12. In our houses you never trip over Lego bricks – only a team of photographers from Taschen setting up arc lights in the sitting room.
Major writing villains here, she says, are often American women who’ve lived primarily in hyper-exclusive parts of central Paris:
Many are actually written by blinkered American harridans living in the 7th arrondissement, the South Kensington of Paris.
Their books, she asserts, push an absurdly narrow strata of upper-middle-class France as being representative of most French lives. Essentially the books leave out most of France and most Frenchwomen – who live lives in fact little different from most American and British women:
…if they ever deigned to cross the Périphérique (M25) to budget-shop at a Carrefour supermarket, they’d see exhausted, podgy women failing to manage (when they even try), wailing children demanding fish fingers and frozen meals laced with sugar and palm oil.
Ms. Moutet is always a great read. She knows how to have a laugh, too.
Of course we Frenchwomen will take any praise that comes to us.
Interestingly, though, as examples she links to these two upcoming efforts:
Here they are:
However, those two appear to be written/co-written by Frenchwomen. As writers, be they American women in France, or Frenchwomen writing for a foreign market, they clearly sense what readers wish to read about. Most importantly, obviously so do their publishers.
And publishers inside of France also know their mass market, too. You won’t see those books in a Carrefour. In one of those huge supermarkets, you find pretty much the same sorts of paperbacks on display that you’d see in a – gasp! – Walmart. (Including, err, the likes of Fifty Shades of… uh, you know. Except translated into French.)
Of course not. Yet there are indeed Americans who live as in a Nancy Meyers film. And “Midsomer” County has some realistic aspects to it.
I am a firm believer in trying to convey realism in my books: that we are all much the same. Yet we do have various national differences, which can create lots of unintended drama as well as welcome amusement. Nothing wrong (I feel) in writing about the likes of all that.
We also have to bear in mind that the “7th Arrondissement” wealth and lifestyle is not fiction. And there are indeed Frenchwomen who do parent much as such books describe. (I’ve known some. They do exist.)
Annoying and depressing as that may be to most of the rest of us. 😉
My feeling is that the excellent journalist in Ms. Moutet is taking this all a bit too seriously. Readers have the internet nowadays and may easily access piles of information on France and probably do so in ways unheard of even twenty years ago. Chances are they aren’t approaching such books cold, without any “France”-knowledge whatsoever.
The overwhelming majority of those readers probably haven’t been to France either, or they have been on guided tours. They likely realize that such books are not representative of the whole truth. They may just enjoy the escapism they provide and perhaps borrowing what kernels of insight they feel they might obtain from them.
Finished that the other night. Another form, perhaps, of escapism. 😉
Happy weekend! 🙂
Let us also remember that today is once again November 11: the day of the armistice ending World War I.