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July 2018 book reviews

Connexion journalists read the latest French releases. To be fair, each gets 20 minutes’ reading time

The Long Spring, Laurence Rose

Bloomsbury Natural History, £16.99 - ISBN: 978-1-4729-3667-7

Passing through Spain, France, the UK and on to Scandinavia and the Arctic, the writer follows spring as it arrives to waken Europe for a fresh year ahead.

Two billion birds follow his route from Ceuta in North Africa and he arrives with the storks in southern Spain and their music and others fill his ears.

In France it is Messiaen’s Le Merle Bleu, which he wrote on the Côte Vermeille after hearing birdsong.

Heading to the Camargue and its flamingos the writer hears the high-pitched call of a penduline tit and then the deep tones of a bittern. When the white Camargue horses spot him they run off, their hooves making the same booming sound as the bittern.

A young marsh harrier is quartering the shore vegetation but it is missing flight feathers, the result of a shotgun blast... later, a buzzard is spotted and it, too, has flight feathers shot away. Just 15% of the Camargue is protected from hunters.

North to Brittany and some wading birds, probably egrets; but no, they are sacred ibises from the region’s feral population. Suddenly, he spots a bluethroat, one of the African migrants, and then some swallows that had possibly travelled from the Camargue at the same time as he did.

You do not need to be a bird-lover to enjoy this, it is enough simply to have eyes to read and to watch.

Paris à Table, Eugène Briffault

Oxford University Press, £14.99 - ISBN: 978-0-19-084203-1

Whether you call the midday meal lunch or dinner may reveal something of your origins in the UK, but “in France”, 19th century journalist M. Briffault tells us “the principal meal of the day has, historically, been called ‘dinner’, or déjeuner.”

This is a fascinating and amusing book... where else would you find that a lack of spinach in his diet caused Louis XVIII to have a room full of the Royal Guard arrested?

Or that Charlemagne “wanted feats performed before any nourishment was taken”? Or follow the progression of dinner’s timing from midday to the evening’s more formal meal?

Even the origins of meatless days in the week, when fish would be served, get full mention as Briffault looks at the food and eating habits of Paris, its nobles, its merchants and the clergy.

He discovers the original ‘brunch’ when he discusses the déjeuner dînatoire  but here it is translated as ‘breakfast buffet’ that while “no longer a breakfast; it still was not a dinner”.

For this brunch, diners would sit down to table at around one o’clock and there was only one service, with all the food on display. It lasted until nightfall...

Crossbill Guides Dordogne, David Simpson

Crossbill Guides, €28.95 - ISBN: 978-949-1-648137

Although Dordogne is a place apart and this guide aims to cover the birds, wild flowers and other wildlife to be found there, it is also a pretty good reference for other regions of France.

Wherever there are wild landscapes with limestone-dominated hills, diverse woodlands and hay meadows, the wildlife will be essentially similar and the wildlife experiences will be just as stimulating.

The writer sees it almost as a step back in time with a rich flora and fauna that seem to be in retreat in many other areas.

This is not a simple “what’s that red butterfly” guide; there is a mine of information on geology, landscape and history to help build a body of knowledge that is the basis for enjoying the countryside, any countryside. However, it also includes 21 routes that give excellent spotting opportunities.

Capable of being dipped into for casual reading, its route section is a detailed work that will reward following its advice.

The Way of St James France GR65, Alison Raju

Cicerone, £14.95 - ISBN: 978-1-85284-876-7

Walking the Chemin de Saint-Jacques is a start anywhere affair (often your own front door) but in France the walk proper starts from Paris, Vézelay, Arles or Puy-en-Velay.

The latter route is the best-documented and this guide contributes to that. It covers to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port with appendices as far as Roncesvalles and Irun – the Spanish section is in a separate book.

 This is the third edition of the guide, released this year, and the publishers say there have been major changes.

It is both light and dense, weighing 236g but filled with geographic and historic points to ease the way. Maps are not detailed but routes have too much... “Turn L along D110 for 1km then fork R uphill”. This risks swapping the pleasure of the walk with fear of an error.

The Bridesmaid’s Daughter, Nyna Giles

September Publishing, £9.99 - ISBN: 978-1-910463-512

This is a troubling story as we discover how a woman who was Grace Kelly’s best friend and a bridesmaid at her fairytale wedding to Prince Rainier could end up in a homeless shelter.

But homeless does not mean alone and Nyna Giles, the daughter of the title, has made sure her mother Carolyn Reybold wanted for little: not a hair on her head out of place, dressed usually in white, but she is wracked with doubts and fears.

It is dedicated to “anyone suffering in silence, in the hope that you may find your voice” and Ms Giles tells of the tumble into mental illness that saw her mother keep her at home, convinced she was ill, and unable to allow her to have any degree of a separate life.

Reading a little like a novel following the lives of mother and daughter, there is no denying the glamour of Grace and Carolyn’s lives as models in New York, and then Grace’s life in Monaco. But Nyna is trying to find out where her mother turned from confident, glamorous and in-demand to become a lonely person spurning social contact.

She could not find out anything from her mother when she was alive and makes a strong plea for more screenings for postnatal depression to help others.

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