If this year has been lackluster and disappointing, my (almost) last book of the year, Emma Beddington's We'll Always Have Paris: Trying and Failing to Be French, has been one of my best reading experiences of 2017. It is warm and funny and very relatable. This is a memoir of the best kind, where you get a sense of the writer and her life and feel almost as if you might sit down in a Paris cafe and chat with her over tea and French cakes. Every success you root for, every setback you lament, you laugh at her funny stories and expat challenges, you feel for her bouts with depression and relationship struggles, and envy her passion for (and proximity to!) all those French cakes!
Emma Beddington did what so many young women only dream of. She went to Paris and studied and met a Frenchman who became her husband and they moved to Paris to work and start a family. It sounds pretty blissful, and for a time it was. How can you not love your life if you are living in Paris, right? But Beddington had already been dealt some terrible blows including the unexpected death of her mother. Olivier, her husband, as well as her half-sister and stepparents provide something of a safety net, but everything she thought would make her life perfect turns out to be not so perfect after all.
It is with great honesty that Beddington writes about her life, all the good things, but the painful things as well. She does not gloss over her own shortcomings or over her disappointments when life does not turn out quite as she hoped. Paris is a far harder place to immerse yourself in even with a French husband and two half-French sons. There is a clash of cultures and expectations, and she never quite feels as if she wholly belongs in Paris. If only all husbands could be so accommodating as the family moves back to England where Emma once again feels back in her element. Where place and people and language are all familiar.
This memoir follows Emma over the course of not so very many years, but her life is filled with so much upheaval at times, back and forth between countries and work situations and all the other curveballs that life has a way of throwing at a person. Painful though some of them must have been she shares them with great openness, which I cannot imagine having the courage myself to share. Ultimately the family ends up in Brussels where she finds her niche as a blogger, but there is one more wrinkle that the family must endure, but I won't give the whole narrative arc away and ruin the story.
I think that is what makes this memoir so very engaging--Emma Beddington is a marvelous storyteller. I suspect it must come out in her blog, which from all hints in the book was (is?) immensely popular. She started her career as a lawyer, became a stay-at-home mom, but now is a writer (and I hope she is writing another book). This was such a pleasure to lose myself in and I wish it had not ended or there was a second book with a continuation of the story. I know I could go in search of her blog posts, but I am a little fearful. This was such a wonderful reading experience I don't want to jinx myself and have a fear of messing with the magic of it all.
The takeaway to her memoir is the realization that what she so intensely imagined as a young woman, all the books and magazines she read and the music she listened to created an image of a life worth living in her head, which was never quite based in reality. It took some hard lessons to understand what real happiness means and the people around which she must circle herself with to feel that sense of home and belonging. I am just happy she has shared her story. It was a pleasure to peek into another life, but also to be able to relate to it, and take away some of the lessons and know only too well what some of what she felt is so very familiar in my own life. Very warmly recommended!