Friday, September 21, 2007

Tarte Tatin

I read Susan Loomis' memoir On Rue Tatin a few years ago and remember really enjoying it and recommending it to people. It is the story of how Loomis and her family come to live in France and find their home and their way in a small town in Normandy. Therefore, it was with great excitement that I noticed she had published another memoir, Tarte Tatin, in 2003 and eagerly awaited its US release - which never came. Enter Bookcloseouts where I was thrilled to procure a copy earlier this year and waited for just the right moment to read it.

I enjoyed the first few chapters very much which told of Loomis' decision to host lunches, then eventually cooking classes in her home. I read the tale of how Loomis' husband built her a beautiful new kitchen with pleasure. Then came a chapter about the town's weekly market. Wonderful, I thought, I love reading about this sort of thing. Loomis wrote about the vendors she liked and what they sold. Yet she also wrote about the vendors she didn't buy from, how they included rotten produce in her bag, or their bread didn't taste very good. She named names, and described where their stand was located at the market. Perhaps it is my Midwestern sensibility, but I found this rather bold, to disparage people she will continue to see, who will presumably hear tales of what she's written about them. The book continued in this vein. Her earlier memoir felt more cohesive to me, proceeding in a linear way; this one was more a series of essays on different aspects of life in France. Other topics she covered included: a smelly dog they adopted, getting one's French driver's license, children playing sports, French childcare and several others. There continued to be negativity throughout the book - in the chapter dealing with her daughter's childcare she names caregivers and describes incidents she was not happy about. There was quite a bit of praise of her own family, specifically how intelligent, clever, and talented her children are. I think we all know who finds our own children most interesting - we do! I didn't need to know her daughter's pronunciation of Paris - repeatedly. The book ends with a chapter about the September 11 attacks on the US. I will say only that her very dramatic and egocentric response was disconcerting.

I did enjoy reading about life in France, the many challenges and differences Loomis faced. I was left, though, with an overall bad taste in my mouth about this book that I just cannot shake. I wondered if perhaps I shouldn't post my thoughts on this book. I know that some only write about books they enjoy and recommend, but part of my doing this blog was to keep a record of what I read and what I feel about it. So while I don't enjoy posting a bad review, for me, it's about being honest about my relationship with the books in my life.

I'm currently dipping into Apples for Jam and Time Out's 1000 Books to Change Your Life. I'm reading Chatterton Square by E.H. Young and began Barbara Vines' Asta's Book yesterday - which I am really, really enjoying so far.

Have a great weekend - I'll be at work!


BooksPlease said...

Well said Tara. I don't know this author, but I know what a letdown it is to be disappointed in a book you've looked forward to reading and how hard it is to write objectively about it. I'm struggling with a book at the moment and wondering whether to write a negative review. You've confirmed my thoughts that I should be honest about expressing my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I think that it is quite alright to give a negative opinion. It only an opinion after all. I will confess that you won't see many negative reviews from me because I have subscribed to the "if I'm not engaged by 50 pages, I'm outta here" philosophy. Except for book group I guess (I'm struggling with "The Portrait of a Lady"). I feel as the moderator, I should probably read the book. Ha!

On to other subjects, I loved "Asta's Book", which is also called "Anna's Book". Read it many years ago and keep meaning to read another of Barbara Vine's books.

Don't work too hard this weekend!

Unknown said...

I think it's just as important to express the negative reactions you have to a book as the positive ones. For one thing, an author needs to hear all reactions to her/his work if s/he is ever to succeed or improve.

Unlike Kay above, I *don't* adhere to the 50 page rule, only because sometimes it takes two-thirds of the book to get the author's point. I think however that if you've actually read the complete novel or set of essays or whatever, then you have done your part of the job and you are entitled to honestly express your reactions.

david mcmahon said...

G'day from Australia, Tara,

I saw your comment on Lotus Reads' review of my novel Vegemite Vindaloo - and I just wanted to say I'll answer your question (and others) in a few hours, with a post on my own blog.

Will link to your site.



Tara said...

Booksplease, I so appreciate your supportive words. You've articulated what I was feeling - disappointment.

Kay, in the last few years I've started putting books aside that I'm not engaged in - the 50 page rule not being hard and fast - so I too have fewer negative reviews than I might have. I hadn't thought of it that way, and I appreciate your perspective. I am still loving Asta's Book and look forward to 'discussing' Barbara Vine when I'm finished.

Jill, thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. I particularly agree with this:

"I think however that if you've actually read the complete novel or set of essays or whatever, then you have done your part of the job and you are entitled to honestly express your reactions."

Well said.

David, how thrilling that you've left me a note! I look forward to your post and even more to your book!

Lotus Reads said...

Nicely written, Tara! Not sure what it is but I find many expats tend to have negative opinions on life in France.

With regard to giving the book a thumbs down, I think you're absolutely right to do so. As a reader I really do appreciate being warned about a book, after all we all suffer from the "So Many Books, So little Time" syndrome and it's nice to know what books we can avoid.

As for myself, I am very much like Kay, I don't usually struggle through a book if it doesn't engage me in the first 50 pages. The one I am reading at the moment "Solitude of the Emperors" started really well, then got so dull around the middle but picked up towards the end. I am just glad I didn't abandon it halfway.

Again, thank you for your honest opinion on this book, really appreciate it.

Tara said...

Anjali, I appreciate your thoughts. I will also stop reading something if I am not engaged; in this case, I was already over 75 pages into it when it started to go sour for me. It wasn't a difficult read - I just found myself disliking what the author had to say more and more.

Nan said...

I think it is really good to write about books that weren't so wonderful. I wonder what is going on in the author's life that she would express such blatant criticism and negativity. Great, well written review, Tara.

Tara said...

Nan, thanks so much.