It is always a treat to come across a fellow Francophile, particularly one as engaging, intelligent and witty as Viv Groskop – a distinguished British writer, journalist and comedienne. Her latest book is a heart-felt and beautifully written love letter to France and to French literature in which Groskop introduces the reader to her favourite twelve French writers – from Francoise Sagan to Albert Camus, via Hugo, Flaubert, Maupassant and others.
The origins of Groskop’s ‘Francomania’ go back to adolescence when she visited France as an exchange student. It was then that she first arrived at a life-changing conclusion: ‘If you want to be happy, it’s best to be French.’ A fluent French speaker (and a voracious reader of French literature) she was quick to contract that lucratively infectious French malaise called Joi de vivre and has so far been brilliant at spreading it among her readers.
Inspired to start learning French by Jacques Demis’ iconic musical ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’ as a teenager in the 1960s USSR, I am in full agreement with Groskop when she asserts that ‘there is a swagger to French thinking that is not shared by other cultures’.
Alongside the countless witty one-liners – always precise, punchy and worthy of a stand-up comedy gig – are personal, yet always spot-on, analyses of Groskop’s favourite French classics. I love the way she jokingly sums up Bel Ami, the best-known novel of Guy de Maupassant, as: ‘the bigger the moustache, the greater the fall’, and Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse as: ‘Interfering in your father’s love life can have dire consequences’.
Groskop’s irrepressible wit aside, her perception of France is also profoundly romantic, reminiscent of that of the Russian-born writer Andrei Makine. In his Prix de Goncourt-winning novel Le Testament Francais, he refers to France – both geographically and emotionally – as the mysterious and remote ‘Atlantis’, where ‘presidents die in the arms of their mistresses’, the land whose melodious language ‘throbbed within us, like a magical graft implanted in our hearts’.
All writers know that books work best when written about something the author loves. Viv Groskop’s latest work is a good example of that.
To sum it all up in French: Au revoir, tristesse! Vive la literature!