Petite Anglaise the book was published in hard back in 2008, although it is the paperback edition (published by Penguin Books in February 2009) that I'm reviewing he
re. The book is ultimately a summarisation of Petite Anglaise's blog so far and, as such, is Catherine Sanderson's true story.
For those of you who've read my review of Paris, you'll be aware of my own love of one of the world's most romantic cities. So, when I spotted the doodle-like drawing of the Eiffel Tower on the front cover of the book when I was in Asda the other day, I was immediately drawn to it. A quick glance at the blurb on the back told me it was a true story of a British girl who'd moved to France in search of a life-long dream adn the bargain basement price-tag of £3.73 meant it was in my trolley before you could say 'credit crunch'!
The book begins by telling us how Catherine Sanderson arrives in Paris. It tells how she originally moved to France in her second year of university where she worked as an English 'Assistante' in Normandy, before moving to Paris permanently a year later. Shortly after this Catherine meets her partner, always referred to in the book as 'Mr Frog'.
Fast forward seven years and Catherine is still living with 'Mr Frog' and now their baby girl 'Tadpole', but the French dream is waining in the face of everyday frustrations like looking after a baby, living with a man who is married to his work and having an unfulfilling job. Until' of course, she stumbles across the blog of 'Belle De Jour' (who I believe is the inspiration behind the programme starring Billie Piper) and decides to dabble in the world of blogging.
The rest (and main part) of the book tells how Catherine's alter ego becomes a phenomenon that she finds hard to separate from her real existance, changing her life forever when she embarks upon an illicit affair with one of her online readers. For the most part, the book attempts to answer the question on the blurb on the back: 'She might be bilingual, but how long can an English Rose keep up a double life?'.
First of all, you should be prepared to want to wander the same streets as Sanderson in real life - she paints an involving picture of everyday life in Paris, missing neither the romantic highs nor the frustrating lows. I have to say though, that is probably one of the only positive things I can say about this book, much as I wanted to love it.
When I popped the book into my trolley, I thought I would be getting a little bit of escapism in good old 'chick-lit', but the predominent feeling I got when reading Petite Anglaise, was that I was intruding on someone's life. It was almost as if I was reading her diary. Now, I suppose that is the whole point of reading a true story, especially one written in blog form, but for me, it was just a little too uncomfortable. It would seem though that it is not only me that feels this way - when Sanderson talks about some of the online reaction to her blog entries, one reader comments that 'we don't really need to read about this'.
As Petite Anglaise, Sanderson describes how she falls in love and has an affair with a regular blog reader. It is a very honest account of her feelings and actions, but I can't help feeling that she is looking for sympathy in her quest for what she thinks will make her happy. To some extent I did sympathise, but for the most part I felt a bit like she couldn't really be placated, so what's the point in giving her sympathy?
I think to really enjoy a book, especially one written in the first person, you have to be able to empathise with the main character. But I suspect that anyone who has experienced being cheated on by a partner, will be inclined to dislike Petite Anglaise. Even as someone who has fortunately never been in that situation, I found it difficult to get past her somewhat 'moany' attitude to pretty much anything.
Another thing that frustrated me was the way the 'characters' talked to each other. Conversations seemed false - as though they were manufactured by the author of a fictional novel and not as if they had happened in real-life, as these supposedly had. This may be me picking faults, but I found it confusing that it is meant to be a true story but the main players talk as if they're in some kind of cheesy day time soap opera.
Like I said, I really wanted to like this book, but it just didn't do it for me. I didn't feel like it was a balanced story - there weren't any laughs to counter-balance the bad times - and I just couldn't connect with Petite Anglaise.
That said, it is an interesting look at life in Paris and what it would be like if you threw caution to the wind and followed your dream, wherever it might lead. So, please don't let me put you off - it might just be your cup of tea - all I'm saying is that it wasn't what I thought it would be and so, it left me disappointed.
One final thing I will say is that Catherine Sanderson still writes her blog, although I would recommend that, if you are going to read the book, you don't look at the blog first or it will ruin the story!