“You’re not quite the same person in another language – I’m not funny in French”, said Emma Beddington, author of We’ll Always Have Paris and of cult blog, Belgian Waffle. She is wonderfully funny in English, so I can’t imagine she isn’t a little bit drôle in French too.
We met at the Club at Cafe Royal to talk about the books that have inspired her as a writer – the humour of Wodehouse, the magic spell not only cast by French Elle but also by Simone de Beauvoir’s memoirs, the immensely humorous David Sedaris, who’s also seduced by an idealised France, and for whom learning the language has extraordinary comic benefits, Patrick McGuinness on the endearing absurdity of Belgium and finally, Don Marquis’s Archy, offering a metaphor for the difficulty of writing.
The podcast will be up on iTunes next week; in the meantime, here are the books that Emma chose.
The Code of The Woosters, P.G Wodehouse
“Wodehouse is formulaic: there’ll be a terrible incident where someone’s taking a fly out of someone else’s eye and is thought to be embracing them…but it’s that swan effect – Wodehouse’s writing appears beautiful and easy and as if tossed off lightly, and yet he worked hard at it. Both my parents loved Wodehouse, so he became a common language”
Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, Simone de Beauvoir
“This first volume takes us from her infancy to when she first meets Sartre – it’s a classic picture of an upright, bourgeois French Catholic family and De Beauvoir is a conventional Catholic daughter, always into her studies…She puts her amazing analytical skills to talking about childhood – she’s a forensically precise writer but she addresses these really sensual subjects. It was the first French book I read after Babar – my mum gave me this in my mid teens. Paris is like a character in this book, it got me excited about Paris, I thought, this is where I need to be”
La Bete Humaine, Emile Zola
“I studied history, and loved French history. Zola had a stakhanovite work ethic, he was so interested in th big issues of the day and everything that was important in that period, he writes about it. This one is about the arrival of the steam age and is about the amazing relationship between man and machine, man and steam engine – the train has a real personality. [Above all], La Bete Humaine is a real page turner.
Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
“Managing [as Sedaris does] to be that dark and that funny is everything I aspire to”
Other People’s Countries, Patrick McGuinness
“Belgium is a really odd place in terms of language and identity, which are the things that really interest me. The Belgians are completely in tune with a sense of the absurd – the surrealists all came from Belgium.”
Archy & Mehitabel, Don Marquis
“Archy is a cockroach and Mehitabel is a cat and Archy bashes out free verse on a typewriter using his head. Archy finds writing hard, as do I -Don Marquis found writing painful and hard – the writing process is not always easy and sometimes you have to band your head in order to get anywhere.”
We’ll Always Have Paris, Emma Beddington, is published by Pan Macmillan.