The Other “Petite”

March 3, 2008 at 4:09 pm | Posted in books | 24 Comments
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book cover

Like pretty much every other Paris blogger this week, I recently finished reading Catherine Sanderson‘s engaging blog-to-memoir, Petite Anglaise. And so, some thoughts:

Petite Anglaise, the book, focuses on one wild year out of Ms. Sanderson’s life in Paris — a year in which she started a blog, overshared about the unsatisfactory state of her relationship, and ultimately abandoned her longtime boyfriend and the father of her child to take up with a man she knew only from his comments on her blog. These sketchy details were, of course, already known to those of us who regularly followed her website. The book picks up, however, where the blog left off.

I admit, I had expected little more from this memoir than a patched-together version of Ms. Sanderson’s best posts: charming anecdotes about her young daughter, wry observations about expat life, and the occasional oblique yet tantalizing reference to the ever-swirling drama of her romantic life. I was surprised and delighted to find Ms. Sanderson’s usual coyness all but eliminated in this format — if you ever wondered exactly what went on behind closed doors and glowing screens as Petite left her babydaddy for an internet stranger, this book will satisfy your every voyeuristic impulse.

For readers new to the Petite Anglaise character, there should be much to enjoy as well. Who, after all, can resist a salacious tale of love, lust, and technology, with all the delights of bohemian Paris as a backdrop?

That said, the memoir, for all that it was enjoyable, was perhaps a little schizophrenic — was this the story of one girl’s love affair with Paris? An object lesson about the dangers of blogging? The sordid confessions of an adulteress? A light-hearted kvetch about young motherhood? Of course, the book is all of these things, as reflects Ms. Sanderson’s real life. Still, it might have benefited the story to have a stronger focus, and let the other threads spool into subplots.

Perhaps this is an indication of my own prejudices, but I would have built the plot around the blog, as I think that’s the most unusual element of this tale. Ms. Sanderson does muse occasionally throughout the book on how easily a blogger can slip from merely documenting her life to actually living life for the blog. If only she had taken these musings a little further, Petite Anglaise could have moved beyond the merely diverting to make a strong and original statement about love in the modern world.

Petite Anglaise
by Catherine Sanderson
available now on amazon.co.uk and amazon.fr, coming soon to amazon.com
signed copies available at WH Smith in Paris.

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24 Comments

  1. Oh hey, I saw this linked on the WordPress front page. Go you!

  2. british out of water (expat) gibberings are so tawdry.

    the wittiest stuff to come from paris is here:

    http://lejournalintimeoutoftime.blogspot.com/

  3. Sonja, how bizarre! It must have been completely random, but it certainly spiked my stats…

    be7be — the journal you link seems about as tawdry as any.

  4. being a small AMERICAN woman, you are too spastic to understand any of it obviously. pauvre francophile

  5. For someone who would appear to have copied (or at the very least been heavily inspired) by petite anglaise in naming your own blog persona [please set me right if I’m wrong and if your blog persona predated hers or if you were entirely oblivious to her name when you started yours], you seem a little forward (to put it mildly) in your criticisms of her blogging habits (overshared?) and book-writing ability (patched-together?) (schizophrenic?) (needing a stronger focus?)…

    Of course it takes all sorts, but a cursory glance through your own blog archives does not reveal any special writing talent/ originality/focus…I mean, it’s not like your own writing is in any way comparable to hers!!!!!!!

    Just curious as to how you feel in a position to find fault with her work?? especially when you appear to have adapted her name for your own??

    Oh, and your references to “take up with a man she knew only from his comments on her blog”, “babydaddy”, “adulteress” are a little bit condescending/ patronising, to say the least..

  6. Beckettt — it’s very sweet of you to jump to your lady’s defense like this. Let it be said that Petite has extremely loyal fans!
    .
    That said, while it’s true that Petite has had her blog longer than I, I can assure you that I knew nothing about it when I named myself. I’ve been called “la petite americaine” (*with* article) ever since I was eight years old and going to school in the suburbs of Paris.
    .
    As for what gives me the right to review a book — I suppose my possession of a brain, and literacy? Everyone’s entitled to an opinion — this is mine.
    .
    For what it’s worth, Petite herself has read this review and took no major issue with it. In any case, she’s a big girl (name notwithstanding) and I feel certain that she can fight her own battles, when and if she chooses.

  7. “That said, while it’s true that Petite has had her blog longer than I, I can assure you that I knew nothing about it when I named myself. I’ve been called “la petite americaine” (*with* article) ever since I was eight years old and going to school in the suburbs of Paris”.

    That’s nothing short of amazing.
    By September 2006, petite anglaise had already been docced and taken the Internet/media world literally by storm, with appearances everywhere – all the major newspapers, the BBC, Sky TV, CNN, all over the world…
    Even her book deal had already been announced…

    Of course you may have been called “petite americaine” since you were born, for all it matters, but to claim that you knew “nothing about petite anglaise” on 25th September 2006, is a little hard to believe, especially if as it appears, you were an English-speaking person in Paris at the time….How did you manage to remain oblivious?

    And while I do confess, like many others, to being a fan of petite anglaise’s blog, it’s not a question of “jumping to her defense”, it’s more curiosity to see what your motivation was in starting a new blog and naming it almost like hers immediately after she had been offered a book deal.

    It would be almost like calling a new blog “littleblueboat”, “a wonderful revolution”, “a free man in london” or any other almost-the-same-but-not-quite possibilities.
    I feel certain that most people would change their name if they realised they’d unwittingly named their blog almost the same as someone very successful (and living in the same city), so as not to remain in their shadow and carve a niche in their own right..

    Of course you are entitled to an opinion, of course you have a brain, of course you’re literate, those are not issues here.
    Of course she’s a big girl now and can fight her own battles, that is not an issue either.
    I am also entitled to my opinion, without your dismissing it as jumping to my lady’s defence (??)
    Perhaps you’re protesting too much?

  8. Are you aware, sir, that there’s a very famous writer named Samuel Beckett? I think you’re trying to pass yourself off as a long-dead nobel prize winning dramatist!

  9. Beuh… I can vouch that the two petites did not know of each other at all when the blog was created. I can also certify that I personally have never heard of “littleblueboat”, “a wonderful revolution”, “a free man in london.” How do I manage to remain oblivious? Basically, I never pay any attention to the UK. In fact, its a courtesy I wish the UK would extend because ignorance masquerading as knowledge is a lot sadder than mere ignorance. One wonders which came first — littleblueboat or littlegreenfootballs? I would advise you, kind sir, to launch your next assault against “le petit dejeuner” which seems to have spread across this city with alarming disregard of any other petites already in use.

  10. lol! I have a fan, too!

  11. If you’re going to remove one of your comments and my last comment (which was in response to the one you so hastily removed, about you “sekritly wanting to be petite anglaise etc. etc. (can’t be bothered to reproduce it all)), why not remove them all, the whole exchange on this matter?
    Or do you need to keep your sneering jibe about Samuel Beckett to make it look like you came out victorious, despite not addressing the issues I posed at all?
    Of course you have a fan/ hundred of fans, that’s totally beside the point…

  12. Oh, baby Beckett. I removed your previous post because you basically asked me to: “Please don’t bother replying, don’t even post this comment.”
    .
    And I removed *my* previous post because I decided that sarcasm would probably be lost on the neurotically obsessed.
    .
    But since you demand it, here’s my full story: I moved to Paris, I started a blog, naming it after a nickname I’ve had my whole life. I looked for other bloggers by entering the phrase “paris blog” into google, by which method I found theparisblog.com. PetiteAnglaise is not carried by them, so I didn’t know anything about her. I did follow their links and meet a number of bloggers through them (see my sidebar), and eventually, through *their* links, came across Petite. Still, even though I’d heard of her and noted the similarity of our handles, I didn’t even *read* petite, nor have any idea how popular she was, until I met her at a party. Actually, I didn’t find out how popular she was until some time after I met her. At that point, I went back and read her archives, and became hooked, as so many of her readers have been.
    .
    What can I say? A lot goes on on the internet, and even in the real world, which escapes my notice.

  13. Oh, and if you’re bored with harrassing me, why don’t you go bother these people:

    http://petiteamericaine.blogspot.com/
    http://lacoquette.blogs.com/la_coquette/2007/08/la-petite-amric.html
    http://espranglais.blogspot.com/2007/09/la-petite-amricaine.html
    http://www.dbcine.com/film/F22446-la-PETITE-AMERICAINE.html
    (yes, that’s Cecil B. DeMille in that last one — I’m pretty sure he stole his movie title of 1917 from your darling petiteanglaise, that bastard)

  14. beckett: I believe the point that you’re missing is that Catherine did not in fact invent the “petite [insert nationality here]” concept, as it is simply a part of French culture. As the sole American in a village of 5000 people in the middle of the Champagne region, I have also been called “la petite américaine” to my face and I can personally guarantee that not one person in this town has ever heard of Catherine, her blog, or her Dooceness (no slight intended towards Catherine, of course).

    Before I moved to this country I had no idea what a blog was, never mind an “ex-pat” blog (how I loathe that word) and was only encouraged to start one as an alternative to group emails, as I thought my experience was so original (ha!). The plan fact is that if you’re not English, there would be no reason to be tuned into English news or read English blogs (I understand that may be a shocking concept for you), therefore it is really quite easy to see why our dear donut hadn’t heard of Catherine before.

  15. Aw… thanks, Vivi! It’s true, pretty much every american or englishwoman gets the petite moniker at some point here (especially if you’re on the short side, which I — ahem — am).

  16. Your “sneering jibe” about Beckett was delightful. Couldn’t agree more with both you and Vivi re the possibility that you could call yourself la petite americaine without ever having heard of the other blog. It’s strange how people think that the centre of their own universe is the centre of everyone else’s universe as well.

    Also I didn’t think your review was particularly harsh, just balanced and honest and if you have read the book, of course you have every right to have an opinion on it.

  17. American by birth, I lived in France for more than 20 years and can confirm that expressions such as “petite américaine” and “petite anglaise” are applied to nearly every female with a “petit accent” anglophone (and sometimes even sans l’accent) who ventures out in public.
    Beckett, your loyalty to une petite anglaise parmi d’autres is touching, but a bit excessive under the circumstances–don’t you think? A review by definition reflects the opinion of the writer.

  18. As an active book reviewer myself, I understand that authors are often sensitive about reviews, but every reviewer is entitled to his or her opinion…that’s what a review is all about. To attack a reviewer on a personal level because you don’t like what he or she says about your book, or about a book you happen to like, is just completely immature. The reviewer in question here even stated, “Perhaps this is an indication of my own prejudices”, proving that she is expressing only her opinion. Just grow up, for pete’s sake!

  19. Thanks for jumping in, Sarah — I just want to make clear that the author herself hasn’t displayed any of this immaturity, and I’d hate for her to be lumped in with her more rabid fans. Ms. Sanderson has been irreproachably gracious in response to this and other reviews.

  20. Probably because she’s an experienced author, and is mature enough to take criticism…it’s all part of being a writer! These attacks against you are obviously launched by overly-sensitive fans. And you weren’t even mean in your review!

  21. Yours is the type of review I enjoy-you mention the positive aspects about the book and you discuss the areas that are lacking. As Sara said, the review of a book isn’t a personal attack on the author. I’ve read similar reviews regarding the positives and negatives of the book (The Guardian had a glowing review).

    Beckett, relax- criticism is all part of the process, it’s how an author grows. I suspect that your personal attacks would embarrass Ms. Sanderson- and, as her #1 fan, I’m sure that isn’t your intention.

  22. In the blog world people can respond very viciously to any type to criticism. At the end of the day, we all have our right to an opinion (and as can be seen in this comments sections we all have strong ones!)

    Nonetheless, it was a well written, honest review, and I appreciated the fact that it wasn’t too sugar coated.

  23. I thought it was a good review too. If it had been a sappy, saccharine view of a book (which is written by a friend/aquaintance of yours in the Paris blogger’s netwerk) it wouldn’t be taken seriously. Not in the least. And it would, in essence, make the book itself look shallow.

    Your review delicately trod the line… taking Catherine’s work seriously… which would have been completely lost on us if you had written something gushing and trite.

    And dammit, my blog stats would have skyrocketed if I had thought to follow on Catherine’s heels and called myself “la petite canadienne”. I could be riding her tailwinds too! I’m such a dummy. 😉

  24. My feelings exactly, JChevais — I never trust a review that is all rainbows and lollipops.


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