Review for “A Call from France”
I have just re-read this review left on Goodreads. Always interesting to know what people think of my books !
I trust Catherine Broughton will forgive me for saying this, but after reading her book I can’t help thinking that yet one more of nature’s great injustices is that parents sometimes don’t get the children they deserve. How is it that an attractive, lively and intelligent young girl brought up (and perhaps a little spoilt) by understanding, caring, and enlightened middle-class parents could have turned out to be the monstress of deceit and selfishness she became ? What could have got into a 16 year-old girl with all her life before her to ‘fall in love’ with a 35 year old voyou with a prison record and nothing more to recommend him than his seductive looks ? And how could she possibly have then decided to run away from home to go and live with a Casino bouncer (who later turns out to be married), the inflexibility of whose religion and culture ends by alienating her from her parents and reducing her own life to one of sequestered misery ? The anguish, trauma and feelings of guilt her self-centred, irresponsibility caused her parents defies all description. It made me realize how complicated women (especially in their pubescent form) can be. And I’m sure less tolerant and enlightened parents would have finished by disowning their daughter completely. But there again parental love should have no bounds.
Mind you, it’s perhaps a small consolation to know that it can happen to anybody, and that generally Mum and Dad are not really to blame. Within our own circle of acquaintances we have examples of children from the same respectable family with more or less the same upbringing, one of whom turned out to be very much the black sheep. Did Deborah’s upbringing have something to do with it ? Should she have been brought up in a far stricter way ? Or was it all imprinted in her genes ? I’ll leave it to those more qualified than myself to judge.
This family drama is played out against a background of the Charente-Maritime part of South West France where Catherine, her husband Euan (a rock of a man – though even he cracks on occasions), and their three children go to live and work. Though we’re given no details other than that their move was caused by the financial slump of 1989, we can surmise that, like many people at the time, they just couldn’t keep up with their mortgage repayments. After struggling at first, they gradually began making a comfortable living by buying, and renovating old property (Euan is a do-it-yourself wizard), and then letting it out to English tourists or French social cases whose rental payments were guaranteed by the State. However, they never really adapted to life in France. On the author’s own admission, Euan never mastered the language, their friends were mainly foreigners like themselves, and they both seemed to spend too much time dreaming of going back to Blighty. And I had to smile at Catherine’s overfamiliar attempts to make friends with a French nurse she hardly knew by introducing herself by her first name and then suggesting they go and have coffee together. She might have got away with it in Paris or Lyon, but in the depths of rural France (where to be accepted, people often need to have known your parents, even grandparents) this kind of Anglo-Saxon ‘instant’ friendliness doesn’t go down well – just as Anglo-Saxons have difficulty in comprehending the more formalized, ‘standoffish’ politeness of the French. It made me appreciate the great advantages I had on meeting my French live-in partner, Renée, who was born and bred in the town where we live. It gave me immediate access to her friends and family. I was suddenly no longer an outsider.
The book is written in an easy, conversational way with the occasional paranthesis, mainly from friends and relatives, taking us backwards or forwards in time. So straightforward is the style that the only word I needed to look up was the South African ‘stoep’ (a raised platform or verandah at the front of a house) – though, admittedly, I’d never come across Menière’s Syndrome (Catherine’s husband suffers from this) before. And in her descriptions of the surrounding French countryside and villages you can detect the artist’s eye. As a former teacher I tend to be a great mistake spotter, and was pleased to note that the book is free of most of the usual typos, punctuation mistakes and grammatical approximations, etc. However, I couldn’t stop myself from wincing on the odd occasion when I came across a split infinitive, i.e. ‘… my main aim was to not damage my relationship …’. In my school days (admittedly long, long ago) this kind of thing produced a severe reprimand from our English teacher. Or is it just me being old-fashioned ? I was also surprised by the misspelling of the French word ‘gaufre’ which has only one ‘f’. Perhaps in the author’s mind it got mixed up with the English word ‘waffle’.
What can I say in conclusion ? A very sad, highly compelling story of a young girl who had everything going for her but, for reasons she herself probably never really understood, simply threw it all away. Or did she ? For there is an epilogue written by Debbie herself. In it she explains how over the next few years (during which she gave birth to a second child) her relationship with her companion deteriorated. He became more aggressive towards her, forbade her to see her family and even tried to ostracize her from her own children. Faced with the prospect of him taking them back to live in Algeria and leaving her on her own she decides to escape from her self-made prison. And there is even a happy end. She and her children now live a ‘normal’ life in the West of England ; and Debbie is not only reconciled with her family but now seems to realize what a fool she has been. If ever she decides to follow her mother in writing a book on her experiences I would be among the first to read it. For her sake, that of her children and parents, I hope she has now exorcized all those demons within her.
“A Call from France” is available in paperback or on KIndle:-