Living the life

I blame Peter Mayle - his 1989 bestseller A year in Provence is an entertaining tale of Brits abroad, struggling to come to terms with an environment which should be familiar, but which proves to be strangely alien. I loved Peter Mayle's book, it's one of my "chicken soup for the brain" reads, always pulled out if I'm feeling ill or down. However A year in Provence unleashed a plethora of Brits abroad, they were trampling lemons in Spain, picking olives in Italy, and then the Americans joined in...

Of course it was very much a product of its time. The middle-class awash with money, property prices soaring in the UK, but property on the Continent staying relatively low, who wouldn't want to move abroad? and make money from writing all about it...The problem is though that some wrote about it so much better than others, which brings me to Annie Hawes' Extra virgin : amongst the olive groves of Liguria.

Annie and her sister went to Liguria (the area of Italy just bordering France on the Mediterranean coast) in the 1980s. It was just going to be a summer job working in the burgeoning rose-growing industry. But when they're offered a rural property at a ridiculously low price, they succumb, and end up living permanently in Liguria.

The book received generally rave reviews on Amazon, but I'm afraid it left me rather cold. It's entertaining enough, there's the odd fact about the area which is interesting; and Annie generally describes the locals both with respect and affection. But I've read it all before - there was nothing here that I thought was really unusual or different or gave me a completely new insight into the life of an Italian villager.

I also found it confusing that the time line appeared to leap backwards and forwards, sometimes dizzily leaping forwards a few years and then back again for no particular reason.

If you've never read one of these "fish out of water" books before, this would be a pleasant enough place to start - but it's nowhere near as good as Peter Mayle, or (for the American insight) Michael Sanders' From here, you can't see Paris. 


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