With the arrival of spring comes thoughts of greenery, young animals, travel, and so on. Not long ago, I happened to stumble on a memoir by an unfamiliar writer, E.C. Murray, called A Long Way from Paris and loaded it on my Kindle. Here’s my review:
This memoir of Elizabeth Corcoran’s time of goatherding in the Languedoc region of rural France was mostly a delight to read. It’s 1980, and the author is an offbeat, inexperienced young American woman reeling from a relationship with an alcoholic boyfriend. She stumbles into the goatherding job through a relative who lives in the country. Knowing nothing about animals, knowing very little French even, she immerses herself in the flow of life there.
The family she’s living with are quite neurotic and strange, though one senses throughout that Elizabeth’s perceptions are a little off-kilter, too. I was particularly struck by her relationship with the mother of the household, Camilla, and how Camilla effortlessly keeps her secrets while this young American is observing her every day, trying to peek beneath the veil. (Elizabeth’s goatherding partner is a young Australian guy who picks up more of what’s going on in the house but is far less interested in the emotional subtexts. His constant refrain when she tries to engage him in conversation about their host family is “I could care less.”)
Ultimately, it’s quite poignant. Relationships are intense yet don’t go as planned; Elizabeth grows stronger physically and emotionally but there is still a sense of sadness as we put the book down, especially as we find out what happened to two of the male characters she’s written about in depth. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of living in this bare-bones household, constantly at the mercy of the weather, and yet enjoying exquisite gourmet meals and wine (so French!).
I’m afraid that the book had sloppy copyediting, though. I particularly cringed at “au pere” for “au pair” and had a hard time turning off my proofer’s eye throughout. The writing was strong, but it’s a shame the book didn’t go through one more editorial pass. (This is a general problem with small presses nowadays, I’ve noticed.)
Ultimately, A Long Way from Paris is a great coming-of-age read, as we get to immerse ourself in the ups and downs of Elizabeth’s daily life with the slow intimacy of a diary. I wanted to know more about her French family and what was really going on during that time she spent with them, but the barrier of language and culture is enough to keep those secrets buried forever.
Note: A Long Way from Paris (http://www.amazon.com/Long-Way-Paris-E-C-Murray-ebook/dp/B00QO2FM2Y/ref=cm_rdp_product) is currently available for $7.99, though prices change frequently.