Book review: Bonjour sweet Paris

Janice McLeod's story of shifting continents is romantic and practical.
Janice McLeod's story of shifting continents is romantic and practical.

At some point, pretty much everyone has a fantasy about walking out of their job and escaping somewhere for a simpler life.

Janice MacLeod did it and Paris Letters (Macmillan) is the story of how.

It's in the vein of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray Love, except MacLeod is a warmer, less whiny narrator and she includes lots of practical details about how she managed.

MacLeod was 34 and living in California where she worked as a copywriter producing the blurbs for junk mail.

She was single, unfulfilled and wondering how she had fallen into this less-than-dream life. She really wanted to be an artist and she began wondering how much money it would take to quit her job and fund a sabbatical.

So MacLeod worked out she had to save or make US$100 a day.

She started by scaling down, cleaning out cupboards and getting rid of stuff she didn't need. She sorted her finances, stopped shopping, went vegan, played the stockmarket and kept salting the dollars away.

Finally, the glorious day came and she quit her job. With her belongings whittled down to the contents of a single suitcase, MacLeod boarded a plane to Paris. There she begins as a tourist, sauntering from cafes to attractions.

Then she meets a butcher who looks like Daniel Craig. Veganism goes to the wall and Paris Letters becomes more love story than travel memoir.

Her romance in the face of language difficulties and the challenges of creating a new life in a foreign country make for entertaining reading.

But the book also has another layer of charm, thanks to the career she eventually carved out for herself - she produces personalised painted letters about Paris and sends them to subscribers.

Examples of these are dotted about her memoir, giving it a Parisian flavour.

I have a theory about paper books. I think for them to survive the e-book revolution they will have to be things of beauty to treasure. Paris Letters is halfway there.

If the publishers had splashed out and printed Macleod's illustrations in colour then it would have been truly special but you'll have to go to her website (janicemacleod.com) to get an idea of what they look like in real life.

As a memoir, this book is inspiring and fun. MacLeod has a good line in self-deprecating humour and comes across as open and honest about her failings and feelings.

At the back there's a list of the hundred things she did to save enough cash to change her life that surely has a few nuggets for anyone trying to manage on a budget.

Many of us don't want to escape our lives, of course; we rather like them.

Or we have debt and dependents so can't. Paris Letters is MacLeod's response to a question we may ask ourselves, nevertheless: What if I wasn't who I am? Who else could I become?

- Herald on Sunday

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