jeudi 18 mars 2010

Veuve Taylor/Escaping and Lavender and Linen by Henrietta Taylor - book review

Veuve Taylor: A New Life, New Love and Three Guesthouse in a Small French Village
Escaping: A New Life, New Love and Three Guesthouse in a Small French Village
Lavender and Linen: Living life to the full in a Small French village

The day I checked out the French section at a big bookstore I found a book called "Escaping". I read the blurb on the back and it appealed to me because (as I mentioned many times already on this blog) I am always looking for true stories/memoirs about (single) women moving to, working, and living in France. When I find books like this I eat them right up.

I have been trying to conserve my finances and always see if my library has a book before I buy it. Luckily for me, my library had this book (formerly called "Veuve Taylor") as well as the sequel "Lavender and Linen".

I was in luck!

I was tempted to borrow them both in one go but I know I have a habit of buying or borrowing way too many books and not having enough time to get through them all so I decided to just borrow the first, see if I liked it first, and then go back for the second.

It took me a while to even start "Veuve Taylor" (re-released as "Escaping" by the publishers for unknown reasons) and when I started to read it I actually had forgotten what the book was about, and the title didn't 'click' so it was a shock and surprise to read she becomes a widow. (I haven't really given anything away as this is all in the blurb on the back cover).

The book is a true story and takes place (in the beginning) in Sydney in suburbs, areas and schools I am extremely knowledgeable about, having grown up not too far away. And the author is right, Balmoral Beach is the most stunning beach ever, all year round.

The book starts when she is about 20 and ends when she is in her early 40s. For all this time she acts about 2/3 of her age. Example, when she is 20, she acts 14. When she is 40 she acts 25.

I did enjoy the book and her story but I found her character soooooooooo annoying I seriously wanted to slap her! If it was a character it would be easier to deal with but she's a real person! ARGH. She goes through life making out she is incompetent and incapable of every little thing. Apparently she can't do anything. She can't give directions, she can't drive well, she isn't studious, she's a terrible mother, she's forgetful, she overdoses on drugs, she's an alcoholic, she's not good with cars, nor with computers,... need I go on? It's amazing that she knows how to clean (which she admits is the only thing she knows how to do well).

Throughout the book she makes lists which are blockquoted and italicised. I wanted to make my own list. Namely:
1. Will she ever grow up and act her age?
2. Will she ever be a decent mother, instead of having her kids look after her?
3. Will she ever learn some new skills and be good at something?
4. Will she always be an alcoholic?
5. Will she continue to go to her father forever?
6. Will she be a compulsive shopper and be in debt forever?
7. Will she ever dump this guys she calls her 'Latin Lover' but which I'd rather called the 'Latin Loser'?
I know this sounds super harsh and it's not as if I dislike this woman, but more that I pity her. She seems to have come from a rather normal (and somewhat affluent) family yet she turned out... well... not so good. I know I should give her some slack given she was a grieving widow with 2 young children to look after but even many many years later, she still seems to act pretty much the same way - irresponsible, immature, naive, and bimboish for lack of a better word.

The second book is a continuation of the first and written in the exact same style (with fewer lists). She does grow up a bit (not much) and more things happen but I still kept wondering to myself, "When the heck is she going to dump this Loser Ray?" (who she met in her early 20s and now it's 20 years later and he's still a loser!) The funny and interesting thing is that the first book is dedicated to him (and to her children and late husband) but the second one is not. Ha!

I can tell you that in the second book, most of my questions (though not all) are finally answered. For example, she is in debt so she thinks of selling one of her properties only to end up acquiring another one and despite all this debt she seems to be able to afford a lot trips back home to Sydney (which, as you would expect is expensive. The airfare alone is about $2000) so on the finance front my question was never answered... but at least I'm satisfied that most of the others are.

Even though this woman is annoying I would still recommend this book if you like similar ones (that I have already mentioned numerous times - "Almost French", "Lunch in Paris" for example). You may not find her as annoying as I did ;) It is still an interesting story after all, especially when she goes from being needy, incapable person going through dark, dark, depressive days as a new widow, to being a competent, capable, self reliant single mother of two. In a way it's a powerful story of one person's journey through life with its ups and downs...

However annoying she was, she is still a much more interesting person to read about than Ellie Neilsen. At least she learns how to do things, how to make new friends and make the most of her life in France. Ellie just seemed like a bimbo with her head in the clouds and wanting her husband to solve all her problems. (ARGH).

On another note, I found Henrietta's use of 'install' interesting as I don't often hear people use this word for people in English.. ie that person installed themself in the bedroom... I have noticed in other books and on blogs too that people use words like 'recount' (a story) or 'pose' (a question). I know these words exist in English but it's far more common to say 'tell a story' or 'ask a question' and I dare say that speaking French makes peoples' brains become Frenchified (almost typed Frenchifried!).

On a final note, she mentions her childrens' asthma problems and how when they move to Provence their symptoms cease, and when they go back to Sydney they start up again. This is actually one reason I want to move away from Australia so badly as it gives me asthma (rarely now) and hayfever allergies constantly to live here, and my problems always decrease or even disappear as soon as I go overseas!

Henrietta's guesthouses website
Harper Collins (publisher)
Interview with Henrietta Taylor (2005)
Review of her guesthouses and the Saignon area (by same journalist as above) (2005).


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