For today’s French Fridays post, a book about expat life in France with a difference. Making it in France is the sequel to Karen Bates’ first book Faking it in France. Karen and her husband Terry (who hail from the UK) lived in Normandy for over a decade and these two books tell their tale. As you might guess from the “Faking it” part, life in France wasn’t always the lavender fields, rosé and cheese you think it must be from what so many people write/ share.
In fact, Faking it... was a response to Karen’s mild depression in response to what she calls “coping in France and trying to fit in.’ In her words:
Living semi-bankrupt in rural Normandy wasn’t the dream I’d fantasised about. Homesick and disillusioned, I knew something had to change, but what? I had seen all those TV programmes promising a new life in a foreign country and the dream of living in France had only been a ferry ride away. But years later, my life was a nightmare. After waving goodbye to yet another set of friends who had not made it, or simply just ran out of money, I was lonely and homesick. I began to write a journal, looking back over my life and the choices that I’d made that had bought me to live in the middle of a field.
As someone who knows well how hard life in France can be, I was interested to read this tale. As someone who loves France dearly, warts and all (granted, I don’t live there full time and I DO get frustrated by many aspects, especially of the administrative side of life there), I was concerned that it might end up being one long complaint, especially since writing this book was a form of therapy for Karen. While there were a few generalisations, the story is one you end up sympathising with – it’s clear that while Karen was a fan of France, their decision to move to “the middle of a field” was going to be problematic from the start. Karen is a social being who loves “popping out to the shops” and being surrounded by friends. It’s obvious she’s going to have a hard time and you do feel for her. However, towards the end of Faking it… she’s so unhappy and alone, I found myself thinking “Why doesn’t she just (insert suggestion about joining a club, reaching out to locals, taking up a hobby here)?” And, in fact, she does – chronicled in Making it in France.
We rejoin Karen and her family at the start of Making it… and they are ready to leave – their ten-year plan isn’t going so well and they decide to put their house on the market and move back to the UK if they can. But that doesn’t go to plan either and the house takes longer than expected to sell so Karen decides to make the most of her life in rural France – joining a local knitting group, a swim class and a salsa class amongst other social activities that help Karen find her place, finally, in their little corner of France. It’s really wonderful to see her coming out of her depression to make an effort to fit in (it’s not easy, I know this firsthand!). the irony of ironies is that just when Karen is feeling in settled and happy, the house sells. Between the two books, it’s a roller coaster ride of emotions and you *almost* don’t want their house to sell at the end of Making it… because they finally seem in a good place.
Neither book is your typical “idyllic life in France” story so if that’s what you’re after these books are not for you. If you’re looking for an honest account of what live in a foreign country can be like, the culture shock and the loneliness, these are a good place to start. It’s not all doom and gloom, however, Karen recounts many humourous details about their lives and actually in my mind’s eye, I could see this as a TV series – kind of like A Year in Provence, gone pearshaped. There are a fair number of references to British culture (shops, public figures, celebrities etc…) so if that is something you are not familiar with, it might not quite have the same effect as if you are (luckily for me, I am but I could see that for a North American reader, some of the references might be lost).
The books are self-published and would benefit from a thorough edit because they are entertaining stories. Karen’s style tends to jump around in time and Faking it… is written diary-style which makes it a little tricky to follow (Karen is dyslexic so one can forgive a few of the stylistic quirks). I also found the cast of characters in both books to be so large that I wanted some kind of “character cheat sheet” so I could remind myself who was who and how they fit it. But all of that is also part of Karen’s chatty, conversational writing style and the more you read, the easier it it as you get used to it! I read both books on long plane rides – they are the perfect holiday read, wherever you are!
After living in France for over eleven years, Karen and her husband Terry returned to the UK, to live by the sea in North Devon. You can follow Karen’s Facebook page to keep up to date with her and her latest writing projects. She has written an honest and heartfelt account of her recent battle with breast cancer, Welcome to the Pink Ladies Club, which will be published later this year.
Buy Faking it in France on Amazon (this link should bring you to the Amazon store in, or closest to, your country).
Buy Making it in France on Amazon (this link should bring you to the Amazon store in, or closest to, your country).
Please note: This post contains product links from Amazon which are affiliate links, meaning if you click over and purchase something, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price (at no extra cost to you) which goes towards maintaining eat. live. travel. write. Thank you in advance!
Disclosure: Karen sent me a PDF of Making it in France for review purposes. I purchased Faking it in France because I wanted to know the whole story! I was not obliged to write a review and am not being compensated for writing doing so.
You’ve got mail!
Did you enjoy reading this? Sign up to receive fresh posts in your inbox! You will receive a verification message once you submit the subscription form. Your subscription will be active once you respond to this verification message.