Carla McKay’s The Folly of French Kissing (Gibson Square, £7.99) is a very funny, cynical tale about British expatriates in the Languedoc. The blurb says ‘Toujours Provence meets Miss Marple’, though the heroine, Judith Hay, is less maidenly than the nosy-parker of St Mary Mead.
A middle-aged schoolmistress, she flees to the Languedoc because it is beautiful, because Montpellier has an English bookshop (called Wuthering Heights) and because the property is affordable: but also because she has a secret to put behind her. She’s been driven out of her job, teaching English at a well-known English boarding-school, because of an alleged affair with the headmistress. As she starts to settle into ex-pat life, Judith realises that almost everyone she meets has come to France to hide something in their past, and the deft plot unweaves the tangles of their tapestry.
The golfing bores, the foodies, the alcoholics and their tormented adolescent children are all anatomised with satisfying venom. Particularly awful is Lance Campion, who had made his fortune in advertising and in marketing rather dodgy teen magazines. He is author of a best-selling ‘French dream’ book: Languedoc: The Four Seasons. The spivvy estate agent is almost as frightful. No wonder the French locals are running an anti-British campaign. But the French could not guess the half of what Judith will uncover about her compatriots.
A tale which begins as a sprightly Sapphic St Trinian’s ends with more than a dark hint of Lolita. Highly recommended.