Monday, 7 March 2011

French Relations by Fiona Walker

Tash's mother, Alexandra, divorced her rather stuff father eight years ago and has gone onto marry the far more exotic Pascal d'Eblouir, and take up residence in a very beautiful part of the Loire Valley. Feeling as though she is losing touch with the various members of her extended family, and wanting to welcome back her long-lost miscreant of a brother, Alexandra invites numerous Frenches and assorted hangers-on to a long, lazy summer holiday in Pascal's chateau. Tash is all set to refuse, but when her relationship with boyfriend Max reaches a cold spell of arctic proportions and the possibility of old crush Hugo Beauchamp being present, she heads to France. Over the course of the summer, there is bed-hopping, swearing (in French, natch), parties galore - and, in the midst of the French bedlam, at least two people fall in love...

I love French Relations. It is far from perfect, sprawling on at times for way too many pages, introducing subplots for no good reason, changing the very nature of some characters - and yet I devour it hungrily every single time I read it. Yep, this is one of my go-to re-read gems. Any time I need a palate refresh from some difficult books, or just need a boost reading wise, I will pick up French Relations without hesitation. This is what my own copy of the novel looks like:

It is absolutely dog-eared and broken-spined and, I think, shows how much I love it.

In some ways it is hard to say why I love French Relations so much - it does have plenty of faults. And yet the characters are all so charmingly-written. The prose is so compulsively readable. The pages practically turn themselves.

Tash herself is a big draw - she's a dreamy and self-conscious individual who you want to shake at times, but also can't help wanting to protect and look after. Each of the characters are realistically written, in as much as they have high points to their personalities and low points. Indeed, if a character is generous with money, they can often be a little spiteful with gossip, for instance. Hugo Beauchamp is a real Rupert Campbell-Black sort of chap - frightfully snobby, arrogant to all hell, and yet impossibly warm-hearted at times. He is the model male lead, in my view, and I wish I had my own Hugo!

By far my favourite character in French Relations is the horse that Tash is gifted by her mother and stepfather in a rash moment - the Foxy Snob. He is deliciously French in attitude, snooty and disdainful about Tash and her efforts to ride him. He is a wonderfully brave and courageous horse across country, he comes to adore his scatty owner, and is just so brilliantly written. I am a massive fan of horses - was a reader of many pony books during my childhood - and Snob is one of my very favourite literary equine heroes. Here's a snippet:

Tash had read the books Niall had given her from cover to cover and was sticking to their advice diligently. One said to build a relationship with one's horse out of as well as in, the saddle. Treat him like your best friends, it read between large glossy pics of children clearing three-feet fences on ponies with long eyelashes, confide in him and never allow him to feel neglected and lonely.

So Tash had been dropping in to see Snob every ten minutes like an unwelcome neighbour shouting 'Coo-ee!' and holding out an empty sugar-bowl as a feeble excuse while the occupants of the house tried unsuccessfully to hide. Not that Snob could exactly hide. He just sighed mournfully and ignored her.

The book also told you to take your horse out for walks like a dog, showing him that you weren't frightened of the things he spooked at. Be Mum to him.

Snob was having none of that. He knew better than Tash that a plastic bag caught in a hedge was actually an axe-wielding equine murderer cleverly disguised. Similarly, he was far too sensible to allow Tash to persuade him that a passing high-bodied tractor from the vines with a flashing orange light on top wasn't several thousand horse-eating Martians kerb-crawling in their flying saucer in the hope of spotting their din-dins.

Apologies for the extensive quote, but I was hoping to also use it to point out the good-humoured nature of Walker's prose. You end up reading French Relations with a massive smile, thanks to snappy dialogue, wise internal monologues from characters and some rather slapstick situations with a swimming pool. Walker writes with no pretensions - she is having fun with the story, and wants you to as well.

I am an unashamed fan of Fiona Walker's stunning examples of summer bonkbusters. They are witty, deeply clever at times, and always, but always, contain a wonderfully satisfactory love story. Novels best accompanied by a massive bar of chocolate for complete bodily satisfaction! You will not regret picking up French Relations: go to it! Buy!

1 comment:

  1. I have to say that I went and googled Fiona Walker yesterday because of your post about the KISS AND TELL release date. SOCLOSE to running out and buying her books. Definitely will see if I can test her out at the library the next time I am there. Your praise has me very interested.