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Being an unapologetic Francophile, I love reading books about France. A Year in the Merde, by Stephen Clarke, is a book with a prominent cover that, being an international bestseller, always seemed to be facing me whilst browsing books at the bookstore.

A lengthy review does not merit my time, as this was one of the worst books I have read in quite a while. I was anticipating a funny, insightful account of a 27-year old British male’s year in France. Instead, I endured a narrative which was basically poorly-written male chick-lit. Paul West comes to Paris ostensibly for a new job, but really, he just wants to get laid as much as possible. The details of his exploits are so corny (and not funny) that I couldn’t help but cringe throughout the book. Yes, there are some accurate descriptions of France and its people in the book (the strikes, the laissez-faire attitude of public servants, attitudes towards sex), but one would be better served by reading many of the good books out there on the land of liberté, égalité et fraternité.

Here are a few that I enjoyed (a while back, so no review here):

Talk to the Snail: Ten Commandments for Understanding the French by Stephen Clarke.  I’m going to throw Mr. Clarke a bone here.  Although published around the same time as A Year in the Merde, perhaps he was using his now older and wiser voice in this book as it was actually really funny and witty.  Found myself nodding my head in agreement to many of his points.

– Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb.  I love Robb’s books for his wonderful narrative that is full of (dry) humour.  Parisians was especially a pleasure to read for its unique structure and interesting anecdotes about famous people and events that were previously unknown to me.  Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, the real-life Count of Monte Cristo and Hitler all make appearances in unexpected ways.

French Women Don’t Get Fat, French Women for All Seasons by Mireille Guilliano.  Having catchy titles, and also bestsellers, the French Women series is enjoyable to read whilst sprinkling in bits about the French woman’s ideas on various subjects.  I also took a liking to Guilliano personally – she strikes me as an strong, bright and elegant woman (who is French – but, of course!).

French Lessons: Adventures with a Knife, Fork and Corkscrew by Peter Mayle.  Unfortunately, having read this book over nine years ago, I can’t remember much about it other than it was about food and that I drooled a fair bit whilst reading it.

I am currently reading Robb’s The Discovery of France.  Hopefully I’ll have a review up sometime in the future!

3 thoughts on “Review: A Year in the Merde (and other books on France actually worth reading)

  1. Thanks for these suggestions! Couldn’t come at a better time . . . my husband and I are planning a (return) trip to Paris sans enfants! I can’t wait!

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