by Michelle Lawson
Publisher: Troubador Publishing
Date of Publication: 17th Dec 2018
Date of Review: 4th March 2019
An exploration of the English community in a remote corner of France. A book which looks beyond the stereotype of the English living abroad. No other travel narratives have focused on the Ariege Pyrenees region of France.
Intrigued by the endless accounts of English incomers `living the dream’ in France, Michelle Lawson set out to find out what it’s all about beneath that romantic veneer. Travelling around the Ariege Pyrenees she captured stories and observed the online interactions of a scattered English community, as well as frank conversations with new arrivals, old-timers and those packing up to return to England. We hear stories of meticulous preparation as well as buying on a whim, and from those who describe themselves as village celebrities, along with couples living in social isolation.
The book is a long way from the usual `we moved to France’ accounts. Instead it casts aside the romantic lens as the author travels among English settlers to hear their reasons for ending up in this remote corner of France. Readers will feel a mix of admiration, envy and sympathy, and perhaps even irritation with the incomers, as they sometimes contradict themselves in order to avoid the well-worn stereotype of the English abroad. The book is also a gentle reminder that such stereotypes present an unbalanced picture, and that if incomers do stick to some of their old ways, the reasons why might be understandable.
The author weaves her relationship with the landscape into the stories of the incomers in this wild and depopulated corner of the Pyrenees. Stories open up comment on local issues relating to conservation and re-wilding, as well as the continuing shadow of wartime events, in this much less well known part of France.
This refreshingly honest travel narrative gives an unbiased view of everyday life for the British community living in a remote area tucked away in the corner of south-west France. The author’s ability to bring this piece of non-fiction to life through vivid imagery makes this book not only suitable for anybody thinking of moving abroad but also for those who love a good story.
The book starts with the narrator lost at a crossroad. Although a physical act of misdirection for the narrator, this is also a metaphor for those thinking of up-rooting their lives in Britain at the prospect of a better life abroad. Such a huge decision: which way to go? And what about those who have already uprooted? Should they stay? Michelle Lawson explores these decisions through the people she meets.
The author’s journey across the region seems all the more real as we see her struggling to get from A to B on her bicycle in the sweltering heat of summertime in France. I felt like I was right there with her; in fact I had to stop part way through this section of the book to go and get myself a nice cold drink! The people the author meets along the way are depicted so well it was like I was meeting them myself. As we learn of the ‘push’ factors for leaving Britain, and the ‘pull’ factors of moving abroad, a character that stood out to me was Tina. Tina’s life had become intolerable following her divorce, where she lived on a forever spinning wheel of juggling childcare, long working days, alongside medication to help her sleep. Her desire to escape this stressful lifestyle in the UK that was affecting her health, for a more laid-back and better quality of life abroad, must resonate with many people. But rather than being portrayed as a ‘happy every after’, Tina’s real-life story is tinged with sadness at her daughter’s choice to stay behind in the UK. A House at the End of the Track is jam-packed with real people just like Tina, each with their own unique and personal story.
This gritty and realistic travel narrative is a real gem of a read and an absolutely essential piece of equipment for anybody who is thinking of moving abroad, not just to France but to anywhere. I really enjoyed reading this book which left me feeling like I had been on long holiday but actually quite glad to be back home!
Thank you to the author, publisher, and NetGalley
for an Advance Review Copy of this book
in return for an honest and unbiased review.
About the Author