French Lessons

2 minute read
Bruce Crumley

English author Lucy Wadham is well positioned to attempt the tricky feat so many other writers have taken on, usually without success: explaining to the rest of the world what makes the French so, well, French. In The Secret Life of France, she uses the insight she has gained from 25 years of living in France to bridge the comprehension gap between the nation in which she was born and the one she’s come to love.

After arriving in Paris on a whim as a college student in 1984, Wadham married a Frenchman and raised their kids as citoyens français. Now she examines all the reasons why “I adore and despise the country in equal measure.” At their best, Wadham’s anecdotes flesh out the strengths and failings of France: her wrangling with its expansive health-care and education systems; her encounters as a journalist that include friendships with spymasters; and her experiences as a wife, mother and woman in a society whose gender relations leave her missing the supportive “sisterhood” that binds women rather than pitting them against one another.

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Elsewhere, however, Wadham’s obsession with what she considers universal French adultery becomes a major distraction. And similarly disappointing is her impression that the particular codes and mores of her husband’s distinctly Parisian bourgeois milieu are applicable to wider French society. But, as with France itself, there’s more to adore than despise in Wadham’s effort.

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