The Englishman’s Wife by Louis Sanders

“And anyway, from what he had seen, English dinner parties in the Dordogne were hardly fashion shows. Quite the contrary; the English here seemed to strive to maintain a style verging on a sort of rural Protestantism, by wearing dull-coloured, preferably worn clothes, even if those who didn’t actually own any livestock did try to avoid certain choices which would have had an element of pretence: green Barbours, corduroy trousers and tweed in general.”

The Englishman’s Wife is the second mystery novel from author Louis Sanders that explores the British ex-pat community living in France. In the first novel, Death in the Dordogne, Sanders took a sly look at a bored English man who inadvertently gets mixed up in the long-standing soured relationships of French locals.

In contrast, The Englishman’s Wife is a much darker tale of jealousy, adultery, and pathological familiar relationships. Whereas in Death in the Dordogne, an innocent ex-pat lands in the middle of a mess, in this second novel, the English ex-pats bring their troubles along with them. Married John and Georgia sell their London flat and move to France hoping (and expecting) to fulfill all their dreams. John, a freelance writer, intends to write that great novel he’s always talked about, and Georgia, a beautiful blonde, intends to settle down comfortably to country life.

The first idyllic summer in an old farmhouse passes dreamily by with John and Georgia meeting the locals and then becoming enmeshed in the British ex-pat community. “Drifting from one party to the next” they mostly nurse frequent hangovers. While Georgia easily makes friends wherever she goes, John does not, and as their savings dwindle, John’s paranoia rises about the possibility of Georgia’s infidelities.

Sanders captures once again the hopes and dreams of those rootless British souls who sell and move to France. Naturally, the fantasy life envisioned by John and Georgia never materializes but remains a distant chimera. But what’s so marvelous in this novel is Sanders’ spot on realization that there are a range of types who seek new, idealized lives in a country they really know very little about. Sanders captures these types within the pages–the dreamers, the losers, the idealists, the middle-aged-crisis crowd, and those who see France as a second, third, or fourth chance to redeem themselves and perfect their lives.

There are so many ironies here. The British ex-pat crowd, for example, find themselves hanging around one another and mingling with types that they’d studiously avoid in England. Plus Britishisms–radio programmes, food, and conversations suddenly gain a premium. While no doubt many normal, well-adjusted Brits seek new lives in France, Sanders concentrates, very successfully, on the other-than-normal.

I recommend this book (and the others in the series) to those who like mysteries but who wouldn’t mind reading mysteries with a change of pace. It’s not necessary to read the first book Death in the Dordogne before reading The Englishman’s Wife, but I’m glad I did. Death in the Dordogne was a much lighter and generally more amusing novel, and it was an interesting contrast to read Sanders’ much darker and decidedly unfunny second novel.

Also social butterfly Sue Brimmington-Smythe, that British ex-pat party-thrower appears once again (in a sort of literary cameo appearance).

Published by Serpent’s Tail. 185 pages. Translated by Adriana Hunter


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