One day in late summer, Michael Wright gave up his comfortable South London existence and, with only his long-suffering cat for company, set out to begin a new life. His destination was “La Folie”, a dilapidated 15th century farmhouse in need of love and renovation in the heart of rural France.In a bid to fulfil a childhood dream of becoming a Real Man, he struggles to make the journey from clinically social townie to rugged, solitary paysan. Through his enthusiastic attempts at looking after livestock and coming to terms with the concept of living Abroad Alone, he discovers what it takes to be a man at the beginning of the 21st century.
Michael Wright has written a column about his exploits in La France in the Telegraph with much success and has now written a novel based on these adventures. The novel, C’est La Folie is a wonderfully candid description of his life in France, battling with the natives, and an ancient delapidated farm house, overgrown land, and the hilarious problems of animal husbandry. And…added to all that, we hear about his vintage aeroplane, his piano, his triumphs at the tennis club, and his attempts to socialise and become integrated into the french community.
He decided to up roots and take himself and his cat to France, in an attempt to ‘become a man’ and prove to himself that he could do ‘manly’ things. So, accordingly he recounts his desire to acquire manly tools, which might persuade him to do manly jobs, like the desperate work that needs doing on the farmhouse, just to make it habitable. As the story progresses, we hear him inwardly balking at the idea of chopping wood in the snow, and other manly tasks, yet he does them all, somehow sticking to his guns and proving he can do it, and enjoy it. He discovers he quite likes physical work, once he gets going, and such are the distractions of his new home, he finds no time or inclination to write his novel, (well…mainly because he can’t think how to start it off!)
This book is hilarious. I had the audio copy which is read by Michael Wright himself, and I have to say that even if it had been the most boring book, I’d have listened because his voice and story-telling skills are great. I loved the gentle humour, which popped up so often and so subtly at times that I found myself in danger of missing bits here and there. I loved the fact that there were half a dozen strong themes running throughout which made the stories all the more interesting, and most of all I loved this man’s honesty. He is so self-deprecating, and yet somehow manages to charm everyone, and learns quickly from his mistakes. We find that despite his assertions to the contrary he ia a very able person, and at the end of the book, he is able to realise this for himself and leave the crutches of the past behind and look to the future.
The animals played a major part in the story and the joys and grief as Michael learns about life in the raw are beautifully portrayed, and it would be a stone-hearted person who could shrug at the deaths of Emil the little sheep, or Mary the chicken.
I really enjoyed this book and will enjoy reading it again and hopefully the follow-up, which I believe is planned for release next year (2009). To those who have criticised it as not being a literary work…it isn’t meant to be, not in the sense of an heavy duty tome, but it is a literary work that recounts life and people in the 21st century and all the struggles, hopes, triumphs and loves that keep folk sane and able to get on with their lives. Whether you can relate to his lifestyle or not, you will be able to relate to the man and his steps towards knowing himself a little better, and becoming ‘manly’.
Susie / Kimmikat