Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Book Review: Petite Anglaise by Catherine Sanderson

Another day, another book of another blog...

As you might or might not know, depending on what you read and whether you are a blogger or at least reader of blogs, Petite Anglaise is not only the nom-de-plume of Catherine Sanderson, a 35 year old British girl who lives in Paris who started blogging to escape from her reality of motherhood, an imperfect relationship and the grind of everyday life, but her first book as well.

Though the blog Petite Anglaise has lost a little of its initial charm - these days there is a only a blurred distinction between Petite and Catherine; the majority of the Catherine's writing is promotion of the book - it is still an interesting read. The blog's inception was as a comment on her life in Paris but gradually Petite Anglaise took on a life of its own. Indeed, Catherine wrote somewhere that Petite became a glossier, wittier version of herself; a character whose first name was Petite, surname Anglaise. Catherine began living a duel life - as Catherine/Mamam she looked after her daughter and her long-term partner, worked as a bi-lingual secretary and carried on much as before in her beloved but increasingly care-worn Paris. In the evenings via her blog and then at blogging events in person, Catherine became Petite. She moved on from merely describing Paris to examining details of her personal life - the more her partner worked and pulled away from her, the more she craved his attention, using her blog to write open letters to him, knowing that he would never read them. But others read it, in their droves. It wasn't too long before Catherine started chatting to some of her regular readers, one in particular. It wasn't much longer before she started an affair with this man, initially through e-mails and texts but eventually a rendezvous in a hotel whilst she was to supposed to be at work. In that moment, in the one afternoon where Catherine and Petite collided, Catherine's life (and those of her family) altered irrevocably. Returning home to her partner and daughter, she ended her long-term relationship and moved into life as a single mother. She later wrote about the meeting on her blog - something which when the blog finally reached her boss's radar was used to sack her immediately. She may have won her case when she took him to an employment tribunal but the damage was done. Petite continued to gather momentum; via crushing hurt when she discovered that Lover realised that he had fallen in love with Petite but not necessarily Catherine and that he couldn't love either enough to carry on with their relationship to the sacking which brought with it an 'outing', as well as readers in their thousands. A book deal and eventually a new relationship and an engagement in the early hours of New Years Day followed.

And on that note, to the book. Most people reading it will know the background in one form or another yet it is an intriguing book, Petite Anglaise. As a reader of the blog details of Catherine's life are not unfamiliar yet this was not a collection of posts lifted from the blog. This was a year in her life, a background context if you will, to the subject of her blog. She returns to her initial blogging subject - her love of Paris and life as an English girl living in Paris - fitting into it an analysis and commentary of her actions and thoughts in relation to her blog. She attempts to examine herself and some of her motives behind what and why she writes yet the style is that of the familiar chick-lit formulae emphasised by the pink cover with line drawings. Catherine occasionally indulges in standard cliches but by and large it is readable.

It is an odd thing critiquing someone's book which you know is actually about their life. There are clearly biased opinions and all the detail is saved for the descriptions of Paris rather than developing the characters. James (Lover) manages to come across as a rather weak character and one can only assume what he will make of his starring role in someone else's fame. Of Mr Frog, to whom the book is also dedicated, there is even less detail save that he seems bigger than could be expected to still treat Catherine kindly after all she put him through. I hesitate to criticise Catherine too strongly for I feel she, through the book, admits that she has not behaved entirely appropriately but managed to stay true to herself. For example, Catherine states that her relationship with Mr Frog was floundering when they decided to have a child. The moral streak in me suggests that those are not the best intentions with which to enter into parenthood let alone words to be written down where the child in question might one day read them. Yet Catherine has the ability to be honest and examine the rights and wrongs of those actions, so who I am to (necessarily and arbitrarily) judge them.

All in all, I enjoyed reading Petite Anglaise and would recommend it to any of the followers of her blog. It satisfied my curiosity to know more about Catherine and her life leading up to and behind Petite, although her admission that she occasionally embellished and distorted the truth to make better posting on her blog made me wonder if some of the elements of the book had not suffered the same fate. In general though I admired her honesty - she didn't paint herself as either a perfect person nor one who had suffered at the hands of others. Indeed at times she alluded to the fact that she became Petite and behaved how she had created her persona to behave. It will be interesting to see how she reconciles these suggestions as her blog continues post book launch and whether or not she feels the need to add a second installment to her memoirs.

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