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Carol Drinkwater


A memoir of life, love, and olive oil in the south of France

Book review by Anthony Campbell. Copyright © Anthony Campbell (2002).

There has been a spate of books in recent years describing the experiences of Britishers who buy properties in various states of disrepair in southern Europe and set out to restore them. The rules of the genre are fairly well established by now. We get the tortuous business of purchasing the new home, comic encounters with rustic locals who are sometimes helpful, sometimes not, struggles with the language, misunderstandings of local customs, and near-disasters which are eventually triumphantly overcome or occasionally not - sometimes the worst happens and the author returns to Britain a sadder and a wiser man or woman.

This book conforms fairly closely to the rules, though with slight modifications. The book is is simultaneously an account of Carol's love affair with a French television producer, Michel, and their joint infatuation with a Provençal olive farm with the singularly appropriate name of Appassionata. Carol tells the story entirely in the present tense, which produces a sense of breathlessness in the reader, and she does not wholly escape the trap of sentimentality; but the narrative is generally lively apart from one or two purple passages of description that slow things down a bit.

A recurrent difficulty for the couple was lack of money; they moved into the farmhouse before they had paid the full price and for quite a long time they were afraid that they would lose the place. An almost equally difficult problem at the outset was the absence of water; no one knew where the supply was supposed to come from and discovering this took several weeks. Carol's knowledge of French was sketchy at first and, as Michel was often away, she found herself involved in a number of absurd misunderstandings; she describes these well. Later they nearly lost their new home twice: once when it was threatened by one of the large fires that regularly devastate much of southern Europe each year, and again when a theatrical venture went wrong and they found themselves seriously in debt. But in the end everything turned out well; they surmounted all these dangers and succeeded in producing a crop of their own olives. We take our leave of Carol and Michel as they survey their domain and make plans for their agricultural future.

%T The Olive Farm
%S A memoir of life, love, and olive oil in the south of France
%A Drinkwater, Carol
%I Little, Brown and Company
%C London
%D 2001
%G ISBN 0-349-11474-9
%P 342 pp
%K biography, travel
%O paperback
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