This is a collection of ten short stories with a linking theme: the British in France through several centuries. It opens with a group of mercenary soldiers engaged in a punitive expedition against a Protestant village in southern France in the late seventeenth century, and closes with a journey on the antiquated Eurostar express to Paris in the ...Read MoreThis is a collection of ten short stories with a linking theme: the British in France through several centuries. It opens with a group of mercenary soldiers engaged in a punitive expedition against a Protestant village in southern France in the late seventeenth century, and closes with a journey on the antiquated Eurostar express to Paris in the year 2015. In between the British appear in their various guises: as railway-builders in the 1840s, vineyard-owners at the turn of the century, artistic exiles in the 1920s. There is a story (based upon fact) about the departure of an English cricket team to play the Gentlemen of France in 1789; one about a literary conference in the Massif Central which may or may not have taken place; one about a Tour de France cyclist. The stories are designed to play off one another and work exploring the British fascination with France, our various and mixed reasons for being there, and our sometimes ambiguous reception.Read Less
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Publishers Weekly, 1996-02-19 On the heels of Barnes's essay collection Letters from London, which included a searing account of Britain's xenophobic anxiety over 1994's ceremonial opening of the "Chunnel," comes this wonderfully wry short-story collection (his first) chronicling Britain's vexed relations with the French over the last 300 years. By turns dolorously indignant and wickedly funny, these 10 stories depict the manners, prejudices and historical purview of Brits traveling or living in France. The narrator of "The Experiment," a giddy literary mystery reminiscent of the author's novel Flaubert's Parrot, speculates about whether his hapless Uncle Freddy was an unnamed participant in Andr? Breton's "famously unplatonic" sexual experiments. In "Evermore," a British proofreader, grieving 50 years later for the brother she lost in WW I, travels among the neglected French burial grounds, despairing over Europe's tendency to forget its own recent history. The closing story, "Tunnel," a thinly autobiographical account of a 60-ish man riding the Eurostar train directly from London to Paris in the year 2015 and reflecting on a life's worth of traveling, gracefully ties together the collection. Other pieces, like the somber "Dragons," about soldiers occupying a Huguenot village in the 17th century, and "Brambilla," a vernacular narrative by a working-class cyclist riding in the Tour de France, lack the dry, hectoring wit that enlivens most of the work here. But the entirety reads like an unusually fine Baedeker, exploring with great polish and nuance the vagaries of culture and personality that divide two unlikely bedfellows in an increasingly homogenous European community. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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