Can We Always Have Emma?

After months of waiting, Belgian Waffling, AKA Emma Beddington’s book finally arrived on Thursday morning.

I carried it around with me from the moment it plopped onto the door mat in the hope that life would clear a small space for me to start reading it. I finally started it on Saturday and finished it last night. I’d have read it all in one sitting to be honest, but reality did impinge at times.

It’s called: ‘We’ll Always Have Paris: Trying and Failing to be French.’

I knew I would love it, and I did.

It tells the story of Emma’s belief that inside her, cloaked in the body of a moody, Yorkshire teenager was an elegant, French socialite, oozing sophistication, beautiful tailoring and perfect social ease. This body would also be draped in magnificently surly lovers, also French.  The book takes us through the years of her obsession with unleashing this inner being on the world, and all things French, particularly pastry.

It is more than this though. So much more.

Emma’s was one of the first blogs I started reading when I began my blog, way back in the mists of time, ten years ago. It is one of the very few that I still keep up with religiously and my love of her writing has never waned. She is clever, funny, wonderfully observant and has a great eye for the absurdities of life. If this was all, her writing would be fun, but not necessarily have enough substance to hold my attention for a decade. If this was all, it wouldn’t cause the frisson of pleasure I get when I find something she has written that I haven’t read before.

What keeps me coming back, and what is such a vital part of the beauty of her writing is that she is good at the darkness of what it means to be human. She excels at showing the sharp spikes of madness that punctuate day to day life, the bleeding edges of grief, the blankness of a life overwhelmed by so much that to feel nothing at all is devoutly to be wished. It’s all here, and it’s all real, and it touches the parts of you, the reader, who have felt those things too.

And I have,

and when she writes about these things I find myself feeling a little less isolated, a little less mad, a little less pushed to the edge of things. Just as when she writes about capybaras and the soothing comfort of patisseries and the irrational fear of the post office, I find myself laughing and feeling a little more connected, a little more together, a little more alive.

Emma’s journey of discovery, of her Frenchness, is not smooth by any means. Along the way she acquires a French boyfriend, but also endures a nervous breakdown. Along the way she acquires two, beautiful sons, but also loses her mother. Along the way she acquires the Parisian flat of her dreams, but also loses her self confidence. For every gain there is a loss, and the losses are often brutal and take much more of Emma than she can spare.

The book is an eloquent hymn to loss, predominantly, it seems to me, of self. There is a sense of restless searching that permeates the book from the start,. Just as Emma finds herself on reasonably firm ground, her identity is ripped away from her again and again. She finds herself as a mother, a daughter, a partner, an independent woman with a career, then it all tumbles away just as she seems to grasp it. It always leaves her trying to keep together and understand what is left after all that is gone.

The writing is brave and beautiful, funny and poignant, sad and yet finally redemptive. It is everything that makes me come back time and time again to the blog, and so much more. It’s wonderful.

Read it.


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