Saturday, 24 September 2016

Book Review: 'Almost French' by Sarah Turnbull


Almost French by Sarah Turnbull

Falling ill and having to spend a few days resting in bed always calls for a good novel to take your mind of any persisting ailments. Just from reading the title I knew I wouldn't mind spending these days getting lost in Sarah Turnbull's true life story; 'Almost French'. 

Sarah's story begins when she meets a charming Frenchman during her solo backpacking adventure through Europe. Instead of heading back to her beloved home in Sydney, Sarah throws caution to the wind and winds up in Paris with, although charming, a complete stranger she has only met once. As Sarah's journalism career finally takes off in Paris the story follows her highs and lows as she tries to integrate into this strange new culture, falling in and out of love with the puzzling, exasperating, but seductive city that is Paris.

The book is packed full of hilarious cultural clashes and amusing trials and tribulations of everyday errands that can only be so hard in a foreign country. Not only does Sarah have my dream job; journalist, freelance writer and author, but it was also her brave move to a completely alien country (not that she planned to stay longer than a week) that had me hooked from the start. I have often flirted with the idea of upping sticks and moving abroad that I was instantly drawn to the storyline and found myself delving through the first few chapters with curiosity.

The novel is scattered with vivid descriptions of leafy Parisian suburbs, the inner city grime, and picture perfect French countryside that will leave you dreaming of fancy weekends in Paris and picnics in rundown farmhouses in northern France. Not only does Sarah have a captivating tone and the ability to create dream worthy scenes, but she is also completely likeable. I was able to relate to her straightforward way of thinking and her down to earth approach to life that meant I was able to feel connected to the emotions she rides through during some of her more frustrating early years of adjusting to life in Paris.

I found myself chuckling along with many of the other characters too. Humour was used effectively to convey and draw upon the differences between countries and their polar-opposite cultures, which you can really empathise with if you've ever visited a foreign country yourself. One character in particular that I really enjoyed reading about was Frédéric; I completely fell in love with his charm, humour and innocent naivety to other cultures. Imagine this very amusing and patriotic Frenchman trying to fool a policeman by pretending to be an Australian tourist to save embarrassment, which is all very ironic in the end.

As the cover of the book associates 'Almost French' to Elizabeth Gilbert's 'Eat, Pray, Love' I originally readied myself to fly through another easy, cliché romantic novel set in a foreign country. But luckily, I was surprised to find Sarah's story offered a far more thought-provoking, honest and amusing account of what it's really like when you find yourself moving halfway across the globe to a foreign place. In some parts it is almost stripped of romance, only revealing gritty details of an expatriate life. Sarah is not afraid to lay bare the hardships that come hand in hand with being an expat in a country that is not truly your own, and the narration of her own life was both genuine and insightful.

There is no sugar coating in Sarah's story, something I found very refreshing. For these reasons, I wouldn't personally describe the book as a romantic novel in the classic sense of the genre; the story draws more upon Sarah's relationship with Paris more than it does her relationship with Frédéric. 'Almost French' is definitely more than just a romantic novel to take along on your next summer holiday.

At first, I was a little sceptical about the book only really devoting itself to France and sometimes touching on life in Australia. However, I was happy to find that the story delves much further than the surface of city life in Paris. Sarah jumps through a number of topics as her journalism career begins to excel and chapters skip between haute couture fashion, feminism, French cuisine, history, art, politics and there's also a whole chapter dedicated to Parisian dogs! I even managed to learn a French football fact that was worthy of impressing my football mad partner with. Basically, I didn't get bored once.

Although I did find some of Sarah's accounts of Parisian life to be a little cliché, which left me dreaming of romance, quintessentially French countryside and sophistication (not usually my cup of tea), I also got a hilariously candid and non-cliché insight into the French culture too. Sarah constantly flies between feeling successful when she accomplishes something that has people complimenting her on her Parisian ways, to feeling completely deflated and confused when her French acquaintances chide her for not following French customs. It was also Sarah's sincerity about her own career and the ups and downs of becoming a freelance writer that later left me feeling completely inspired, and truly made me love this book.

Book review | Becoming megan

As I worked my way through the amusing anecdotal stories of Sarah's journey of becoming 'Almost French' it becomes clear to me that there is an underlying message behind her story. It is okay to not always "fit in" and rules don't always have to be followed if it means not being true to yourself; you can't be someone you're not, even if you do consider yourself Australian and (almost) French.

I took my time reading through the last few chapters of 'Almost French', as the novel left me feeling inspired, motivated and uplifted. And of course, just a little bit more tempted to throw my comfortable self into a new culture and (hopefully) reap the benefits that Sarah Turnbull did.

Now, where did I leave my GCSE French textbooks?

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