Notes from the Cévennes review – an English writer abroad

Adam Thorpe’s erudite memoir reflects on the realities of relocating to a rustic French idyll

Adam Thorpe’s memoir begins with a quotation from Daphne du Maurier’s The Scapegoat: “I should never be a Frenchman, never be one of them.” This seems to hint at a complicated yearning and a particular sort of book – one in which an English person moves to France but never quite belongs (like Emma Beddington’s We’ll Always Have Paris: Trying and Failing to Be French, or Love Like Salt, by Helen Stevenson, which explains how her children, although bilingual, were never quite accepted as French).

But Thorpe’s memoir is not part of any herd. Nor does it belong in the fast-and-loose category of potboilers about swapping English life for continental idylls, such as Carol Drinkwater’s The Olive Farm or Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence. It is erudite, firmly embedded in ...