I did rather better with Dolley’s description of their journey to France which entailed a concerted battle with an unwilling horse and two horse boxes. Similarly with the lurcher Gypsy’s unwillingness to pass up the opportunity to attack a passing ankle, let alone a foreign dog. Mind you, after a summer of helping our neighbour with her horses, younger son would recognise the bitter experience behind this comment:
I've often wondered how Rhiannon would have fared in the Wild West. And where cowboys found horses that could be left loosely tied outside saloons? Every horse I've ever come into contact with would have disappeared before the first foaming pint came sliding down the saloon bar. And as for riding through gunfire – none of our horses would have made it past the first oddly shaped haystack let alone ridden into danger.If there is a problem with this sort of “how we moved to France and how it all went wrong” book, it is that the tone of frenetic hilarity begins to feel a bit forced after a while, and you wish you could have a few pages when the author isn’t trying to make you laugh. No, honestly, you want to protest, just tell me about it, a few pages of description is fine, you must have liked to France to want to move there, but right now I haven’t a clue why you did because your relentless xenophobia is getting in the way. It’s the sort of writing which is taught by correspondence course – pile on the escapades, the deprecatory comments and long-suffering tone without pause, nice short, pithy sentences and paragraphs please, so that the pace never flags, keep up at the back there and put your kiss-me-quick hat back on, you’re not joining in the fun. It all becomes a bit exhausting.
When, in the second half of the book, things suddenly look at bit bleak for Chris and Shelagh, because all their savings had disappeared in a case of identity theft, the style of writing ought to be markedly different, but it all sounds a little too much the same. The short, pithy paragraphs continue unabated, the tone – slightly puzzled, slightly ironic, distinctly facetious – is still there. It’s an easy one for the British writer to adopt – perhaps our besetting sin, familiar right across the board at the lighter end of literary endeavour. We court approval with it in school and many of us never lose it.
You’ll probably have gathered from the foregoing that I have mixed feelings about this book, probably enjoying it more than I feel I ought to have done. The detective story – following up the trail of the identity thief – does lift it out of the run-of-the-mill moving-to-a-foreign-country-disaster story and contains some genuine surprises and twists. Evidently, Dolley realises that there is really is no more mileage in the awfulness of plumbers, and at least takes some responsibility for his own inability to communicate in the language of his chosen home. But I have to admit that the obligatory farcical set-piece (in this case, a football match) was skipped by this less-than-intrepid reader. Sometimes an author just goes too far. Similarly, having read the chapter in which his mother-in-law arrives, I can only imagine that either she is now deceased or Dolley divorced. As she was 80 at the time of the visit (sometime in the 1990s), though, he probably no longer has to fear a libel suit.
French Fried came to me via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers. My world would have been no different if I hadn’t read it, but it helped to while away a long and dreary train journey, as did writing my review.
* Edited later to add this link to LindyLouMac's review of French Fried, which adds some interesting tidbits about its route to publication.