As the title suggests, I can honestly say I’ve never written such a harsh book review. But when I consider that a book has never frustrated me in the way that this book has, it stands to reason.
I’m cautious about posting this review for a number of reasons.
Namely, as the age old expression goes, ‘if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’, and because I appreciate the book is very personal.
My intention is not to come across as slating the book, or being mean, I just thought it was important to write down my thoughts as I read because I’ve never had such a strong, negative, reaction to a book. I’ve had big realisations and sad moments with books and films in the past, but nothing notably negative, so this seemed significant.
I read the book as part of the #travelbookclub, a monthly Twitter bookclub that will take you around the world from the comfort of wherever you are (in case you’re curious). Initially I was excited to read the book, which is my usual reaction yes, and because we’ve read so many great books this year already. My opinion quickly changed…
The book in question is called “We’ll always have Paris – trying and failing to be French” and I massively disliked it because;
1. I felt like the author often concentrated on the fun stuff, while everyone else focused on the adult and important issues. To me, the tone came across as childish, and as though she never really had to grow up because people were always around to look after her. I’m not saying she didn’t face some really awful experiences, what I’m saying is, the childish tone frustrated me. I don’t sail through life expecting people to deal with the hard stuff for me. I don’t expect people to fix things for me. As an independent female, I often idolise strong female leads, and authors. I admire empowered women, so it frustrates me to come across people who rely on everyone else.
2. At several points in the book, there are some obviously deep rooted issues that arise, but these issues are (frustratingly) never addressed. Instead the author seems to glaze over them and does not really offer any solid explanation / advice for how she dealt with these issues (if she did indeed). Some of the issues she alludes to; eating disorders, death, anxiety and depression – are not addressed in a healthy manner at all. This isn’t an advice book – I appreciate that, however, if you are going to raise these complex and deep issues, I think highlighting healthy ways to overcome them (e.g. Counselling or therapy) is essential.
3. I found the book wholly unrelatable. I could appreciate that she and her partner clearly worked hard to live a nice life, but there was a strong emphasis placed on things such as; M&S – the author really missed this shop when living abroad, it wasn’t the same as the one at home… I just found myself thinking ‘bigger picture!’ – if you can afford to do all of your shopping at M&S then you’re probably doing alright. The same was true of buying houses – it all sounded so easy, which is not the reality for people struggling to get on the property ladder in the U.K. at present. I couldn’t relate because her life is lightyears away from mine, which is fine, we can’t all be the same, but it was the way she complained about everything instead of appreciating what she had.
4. I found her to be narrow minded at times, which is similar to what I’m saying in point no.3. In line with this, sometimes she sounded downright snobby, for instance, in her discussion on Greggs, which again fits with the M&S point.
5. I found her views to be very fixed. There was no flexibility, and I suppose issues of control were a constant theme throughout, but in different forms.
6. Overall I found the book to be rather self indulgent and negative. At times, I’d go as far as to say self-centred, with some considerations for others, but again, that was somewhat skipped over.
7. She never sounded happy or satisfied – if I could recommend one book to the author, it would be ‘The Happiness Project’ because she never appeared to appreciate how lucky she is to live the life she does. To be able to rely on other people so she may live out her whims and fantasies instead of facing the reality that the rest of us do.
That said, I quite enjoyed the book from chapter 18 onwards – the tone changed and was far less self indulgent, but I wanted more of this style.
Maybe the book annoyed me because it reminded me of traits of myself that I dislike, I mean, that’s a thing isn’t it, disliking qualities in people that you recognise in yourself?
But mainly, I think I found the whole narrative very negative, without offering much in the way of figuring out how to make things better for yourself. It was as if she didn’t want to focus on the positive, the solutions, or how she overcame her problems. In essence, it was the complete opposite of ‘The year of living Danishly’, which is essentially a happiness project in itself.
I liked it more towards the end but I still found it frustrating because, yes, she acknowledged how unhappy she was but she never appeared to accept that her decisions took her down that path. She doesn’t own how she ended up where she did. Maybe she does at some points, but, this is what I find the most frustrating.
The overriding sense of her feeling sorry for herself is refreshingly replaced – if only fleetingly – by her consideration for other people, and how this stage in her life must have been for them. But as I said, it is only briefly touched upon.
And this concludes the harshest book review I have ever written. The first, and perhaps, the last.