By Catherine Sanderson
Michael Joseph £12.99, 352 pages
FT bookshop price: £10.39
Catherine Sanderson tells the father of her daughter that she is leaving him after eight years together. Then she writes him a letter – “an apology, and an obituary to our relationship” – and posts it on her blog, where thousands of strangers can read about the evening she first met him, eight years before: “When you walked into the bar, wearing your cuddly blue duffle coat …” Now she has put all this in a book.
Sanderson was an English secretary in Paris with a British accountancy firm, frustrated with her life, when she started blogging under the name petite anglaise. She gained a global following, was sacked by her company and has now published this account. In part it is magnificent, even if Sanderson could lose the cliches (“the sound of my heart pounding in my ears was louder than my footfalls on the pavement”). However, it’s magnificent for the most traditional of reasons. Sanderson has a novelist’s gift for capturing certain eternal situations. This book could have been called “Madame Bovary on the Metro to the Childminder’s”.
For a start, there’s Sanderson’s social history of today’s working-stiff’s Paris. It’s a city of tiny interior spaces, a long way from the Eiffel tower, whose inhabitants lead a life of Metro-boulot-dodo (metro-job-kip). But though Sanderson contemplates splitting up with Paris, she can’t.
Her social history of modern exhausted family life is just as good. Her jilted partner, “Mr Frog”, is the book’s most moving character. Their two-year-old daughter, “Tadpole”, provides wonderful comedy. As Sanderson and Mr Frog put Tadpole to bed, just before she will tell him that their relationship is over, she feels “the terrible knowledge that this would be the last time we would say goodnight [to Tadpole] as a couple”.
But the most fraught cohabitation in the book is that between Sanderson and petite anglaise. Writing her blog helps her “see everything more clearly”, and makes her something more than a bored secretary, but it also changes her life. Her new boyfriend is seduced by the eloquence of petite anglaise before he ever meets Sanderson. He falls for a witty, elegant woman who doesn’t quite exist. As many have discovered in our time, it’s easier to live in cyberspace than in an actual bed with a real tired human being.
To keep her blog’s readers, Sanderson has to keep cannibalising her relationships for material. The function of her life – and Mr Frog’s – becomes the entertainment of strangers. Sanderson can see this. She knows that her break-up has bought her blogging fame.
This book couldn’t have existed 10 years ago. Nonetheless, there is something reassuringly traditional about Sanderson’s decision to publish on dead trees. Even the best blog is still just a step-up to a book.
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