A French Affair

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In A FRENCH AFFAIR, Michael Kenyon rambles through years of association with things French. This personal memoir centers on a prolonged residence with his wife Catherine and three daughters in southwestern France. The confrontation of a British family with daily provincial living is the business side of their “affair.” The Kenyons’ haphazard domestic arrangements are often downright hazardous and usually quite amusing. This memoir also recounts a romantic “affair,” a fascination with the charm and beauty of the setting. Some of these musings were written for GOURMET magazine, so Kenyon’s emphasis on food is business, as well as a personal obsession.

Michael Kenyon first left England in a school exchange. Mute but happy, he rambled through Paris and revelled in gastronomy. Food and language are Kenyon’s continuing themes. His struggles with French are heroic, but he is ready to laugh as he mangles messages, always muddling through to something delicious.

As his family goes about housekeeping in the Lot, an agricultural district of southwestern France, Kenyon pursues a writing career. The breathtaking landscape produces truffles, foie gras, “Black” wine, and eccentric peasants. Catherine teaches English and deals doughtily with cooking an “Anglo-Irish-English-Franco-American Thanksgiving” on a temperamental coal stove. The children brave the perils of public school and French culture with good will, in spite of frequent mishaps. Kenyon describes personalities and setting, food and drink in pungent sensory detail.

Time marches on. The family grows up and disintegrates. Catherine leaves with a lover. Michael returns to the Lot to reclaim books and acquaintances. In the epilogue, he and his daughters remember kitchen table French lessons and ponder their inextricable love for France and each other. A FRENCH AFFAIR is a poignant personal record, told with offhand, comic verve.