Friday, July 8, 2011

Another Fine French Book Giveaway

I love to read about France, my adopted country, and particularly the South. And I especially love books by and about expats in Provence, for all the obvious reasons. So when I received an advance copy of The House in France, I shoved all the other books and magazines aside and dug in right away. I knew the author Gully Wells was an editor at Conde Nast Traveler in New York and I knew, from bits of things I’d read, that she leads a big, interesting, literary life. Beyond that, I had no clue what to expect. But I was pretty sure it was going to be fun.

Turns out, The House in France is really only peripherally about the Wells’ family home and life in Provence--but I loved it anyway. The book provides a wonderful glimpse into a world I knew nothing about: the liberal, intellectual, literary world of London of the 1960s. The ramshackle farmhouse, which Gully’s mom bought on impulse in 1963, was meant as a vacation home but in many ways, it became home base. It’s where everyone in Gully’s clan retreats to rest and regroup and reconnect.

Gully was born in Paris, brought up in London, educated at Oxford, and moved to New York in 1979. Her memoir globetrots as she does but it’s set mainly in Provence, London, and New York. It chronicles three generations of her fairly eccentric family, most notably her mother Dee Wells (a glamorous, rebellious American journalist and TV commentator, a self-described “wild savage” who “found nice people dull”) and her stepfather A.J. Ayer, a celebrated Oxford philosopher and prodigious womanizer who everyone called Freddie.

Along the way, we also meet Gully’s “enormously attractive” father, who had “an enviable talent for extracting a huge amount of pleasure from every moment in the day.” Of her childhood, she writes: “It struck me as perfectly normal that I should live with my mother in London and then be sent off each vacation—like an airmail package—from Heathrow, with a label pinned to my lapel, to stay with my father wherever he happened to be.”

Her father, a diplomat who lived mainly in Germany, took Gully skiing in winter and to Italy in summer in his snappy white Mercedes convertible. (Now we know where her love of travel came from.) Freddie, on the other hand, “lived in London, took me to French restaurants, fed me my first snail and didn’t know how to drive.”

“They could not have been less alike, she writes, and I loved them both.”

We also get to meet Gully’s adored half-brother Nick, her various boyfriends (such as Martin Amis, her first love), and finally, her husband Peter (a BBC producer) and kids Rebecca and Alexander. Orbiting this core group are a whole universe of luminaries such as Alan Bennett, Isaiah Berlin, Iris Murdoch, Bertrand Russell, Jonathan Miller, Christopher Hitchens, Vanessa Lawson (Nigella’s mom), Anna Wintour and many more. Even Robert Kennedy, New York Mayor John Lindsay and Mike Tyson made cameos in Gully World.

It was the author’s relationship with her mother, however, that forms the backbone of the book—and that’s where the house in France comes in. Called La Migoua, it’s perched on a hill between Toulon and Marseilles. Here the family enjoyed languid meals under the lime tree, nosy but loving neighbors popping round with slobbering dogs and bottles of homemade vin d’orange. There were hot summer days at Bikini Beach, mountain hikes, fresh local food toted home from nearby markets and all the other things we associate with summertime in Provence. If you’ve spent any time at all in these parts (or seen Provence in countless movies), you can picture the house perfectly: the thick stone walls, the clackety beads in the doorway, the old baskets and dusty herbs hanging from the beams, the marble topped dining table with rush-seated wooden chairs (“like the one in van Gogh’s painting of his bedroom in Arles”), the enormous blackened fireplace. After her mother dies, in 2003, it’s six years before Gully feels ready to return, so closely tied in her mind were her mother and the house. And yes, Gully still has the house.

My only gripe about The House in France was that it had no photos. I wanted to see what all these colorful people looked like…and, of course, I wanted to see the house. Well now I see that the finished hardcover, released a couple weeks ago, has 16 pages of photos--which makes the story even more compelling.

Want the book? The fine folks at Knopf Publishing have offered me two copies to give away. Simply leave a comment below and two will be chosen next week. Make sure you leave us your email address, somewhere within your comment.  And if you don’t win a copy, you can buy it on Amazon by clicking here. The Kindle edition is here.

42 comments:

  1. I am always so envious of the people who regularly spent time in France. We have spent about a total of 6 months in the last 12 Years. Books like this help me to feel I am there again.

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  2. Hi Geraldine, we need an email address in order to reach you if you win. Thanks!

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  3. Interesting. I read an extract of this book in a Sunday paper and found it bitchy and name droppy. I felt it was someone, most of us hadn't heard about, using other people's celebrity to get you to read on....but then I didn't read the whole book.

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  4. I too am a French-book-aholic, despite living here for 7 years, can't get enough of them!

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  5. This sounds fabulous! I want a copy! Great review - thanks for posting - cat@kingswharf.net

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  6. Sounds like a fun read. Would love to have free copy! If not, I just realized that Amazon has a depot in Montpelier, which is not far from where I live. The books understandably are more expensive, but the last book I ordered had free shipping, so still less expensive than ordering from the States. Between Kindle, Amazon.fr, and the odd find in a brocante, I am constantly supplied with good books to read. Life is good!

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  7. Jacqui here again - forgot the email address! jacqui.brown@orange.fr

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  8. I read an excerpt of this in a recent issue of American Vogue and mentally put the book on my "must read" list. I spent a few weeks in Provence and the Hautes-Alpes last summer and can still hear les cigales. I would love to win this book and evoke those good feelings of the South of France all over again.

    luxebytes at gmail dot com

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  9. I'm always looking to add to my ever growing collection about living in France books. Count me in Julie.
    Email: samhoffer@gmail.com
    Sam

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  10. Of course I want this book...while I'm waiting for yours, Jules! :)

    Thank you, Knopf Publishing!

    sglucknyc@gmail.com

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  11. Sounds like a great read...I would love to win a copy, I shall keep my fingers crossed.

    lindacarswell (at) bigpond.com

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  12. I would love to read more about the area we have relocated to! We just moved to Cheateauneuf-Grasse and I am eager to learn all I can. cathilynnk@yahoo.com

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  13. i'm interested!!!
    cigalechanta@hotmail.com

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  14. Would love a copy! Spend every April in Provence or the Languedoc and teach some cooking there. Need another good book to relax with and visualize what I am missing when not there! Karen Cookanddraw@yahoo.com

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  15. I'm ridiculously in love with Provence. My son went to school in Aix and as a result became a French citizen...I set a novel in that city, am moving there from Carmel-by-the-Sea, and read everything I can get my hands on about Provence. Loved your fabulous review!!
    myfrenchheart(at)yahoo.com

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  16. Love French Book Giveaways :) NO pictures :( but still would love to win :)

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  17. Love this type of memoir, and especially when it includes life in the south of France!
    dmgoodman66@msn.com

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  18. I would love to read this book! I am totally in love with France. A group of us "girls" are going to Provence a year from September and this would make a wonderful read and really whet our excitment about Provence.

    Mspuzzle@aol.com

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  19. Oui, this is a place I would love to visit one day. For now, reading about being there would be good.
    vvb32 at yahoo.com

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  20. I'm fond of a good globetrotting memoir, so I'd be really happy to win this book. :D

    herebebooks at gmail dot com

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  21. I'd love to have a copy of this book to live vicariously through other people's experiences! Can reach me at vicki2201 at mac dot com.

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  22. I'm a French-book-reader, passionate about the South of France for 15 years. After years of spending all my vacation time touring the Luberon villages and the Riviera, I'm now a proud owner of an appartment in Cannes, looking forward extending my number of days staying there. I'd love to have a copy of this book.

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  23. Camus Cannes,
    We need a email address for you in case you win.
    Thanks!

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  24. Did i hear a serialisation of this on BBC Radio Four last week? Sounds familiar - I was hooked! Would love to win a copy!
    denisemackenzie2009@gmail.com

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  25. France + memoir? Sounds like my kind of book. Please count me in!
    dvoratreis@yahoo.com

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  26. Sounds like a delightful book Julie!I love the part where you san she ws introduced to eating a snail and couldn't drive..... I remember the first time I had to figure our "toutes directions"!Maryanne xo

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  27. Yes, of course I want a copy! I'm reading Nicholas Delbanco's "Running in Place" right now and loving it...

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  28. Sounds like the perfect read interesting people,name dropping and the life many would aspire to!

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  29. I couldn't wait and picked-up the book today. Great writing....enjoying it! Thanks for the review!

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  30. I adore memoir/stories like this. Would really love to read about this place and the people who were there. Thanks for the chance to win!

    susanaudrey33 at gmail dot com

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  31. This looks like a fascinating book!

    ikkinlala AT yahoo DOT ca

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  32. Sounds fabulous, would LOVE to win!Deb chedeb5353@hotmail.com

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  33. Not only do I look forward to reading the book. I would also like to compliment the way publicity is generated amongst Provence lovers. My wife and I look forward to moving to the Provence from the Netherlands in a few years from now. Books like this help us bridge the time to that moment.
    johan.stoffels@upcmail.nl

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  34. Looks like a book I'd love to own. Linda @lpennin104@aool.com

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  35. I miss France every July while I watch the Tour De France. Vacationing there with my family was so wonderful from Normandy to Provance, I love it all.

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  36. I have been a francophile since I majored in French in college in 1968...that's a long time! I would absolutely love to have a copy of this book. Reading about the South of France makes me happy:) You can reach me at jsearles@nc.rr.com. Merci!

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  37. I'm in! Fingers, toes and eyes crossed!

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  38. So I've been e-mail discussing the topic of envy with a friend, and reading your review of House in France looking for likely suspects. In that mode I fell upon this paragraph beginning,
    “Called La Migoua, it’s perched on a hill between Toulon and Marseilles. Here the family enjoyed languid meals under the lime tree, nosy but loving neighbors popping round …”

    I want some nosy neighbors popping round with homemade vin d’orange, whatever that is! Wouldn’t mind a rush-seated wooden chair like Van Gogh’s in Arles, either (what is a rush-seated chair?)

    Interesting that you can want something when you don’t know what it is, exactly.

    On the other hand it must speak well for my marriage that I am not particularly envious of her affair with Martin Amis.
    kathyseal@gmail.com

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  39. Hi Julie! I would LOVE to win this book . . .I dream of living in the south of France almost everyday. Thanks, Debra
    debrapaper@gmail.com

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  40. Hi Julie, I love your blog and all the wonderful ideas you give to my dreams! Winning the book would be wonderful.
    Thank you for all you do,
    Tammy
    tammy.roach@yahoo.com

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  41. what a great giveaway! This book will take me from my home country, the Philippines to France where everything is so different.
    I'd love to win this!

    peachyadarne(at)yahoo(dot)com

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