Thursday, 27 October 2011
Craving British fiction - an expat phenomenon?
When I first moved to New York, I was keen to read anything set in my new milieu. I devoured modern novels set in Brooklyn (I loved Amy Sohn's Prospect Park West), Manhattan (Zoe Heller's The Believers), and re-read New York chick lit like The Devil Wears Prada, suddenly delighted that I recognized the locations and local references. I was also desperate to watch movies set in the city, checking multiple Woody Allen DVDs out of the library. I have made a point of reading many American novels over the past two years. Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, an epic saga of the American family through the 60s to present day, was probably one of the best but I also adored The Help, and loved another book club pick, Girl in Translation, about a Chinese-American immigrant to New York in the 70s.
This was not a new phenomenon; as a child, I loved American fiction. Among my favourite books were Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women and What Katy Did. American writers from that era seemed to specialize in headstrong female heroines that were particularly appealing.
But recently I have begun to crave English fiction. It's a bit like craving comfort food - at the moment I want to read English novels, set in London, or even better in the English countryside. William Nicholson's two novels The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life and I Could Love You were recent examples. His style is so very understated and British, in a 'Brief Encounter' type way. I've also got a sudden appetite for Alexander McCall Smith's Scottish novels - his characters are somehow so typically British and unlike anyone you would meet here. When I go to the library, I dive upon any book by a British author, and for my summer holiday reading I chose books set in England by British authors I love: Esther Freud's Lucky Break, Amanda Craig's Hearts and Minds and Barbara Trapido's Sex and Stravinsky (downloading them to Kindle as you can't buy them here).
As for films, I recently watched Stephen Frears' Tamara Drewe, a fabulous modern-day riff on Far From The Madding Crowd based on the hilarious graphic novels of Posy Simmonds. Compare it to Bridesmaids, which I also watched recently - this was a laugh out loud American comedy, and I enjoyed it- but Tamara was so much more to my current taste. After a girls' movie night, when I persuaded my American friends to see the recent adaptation of Jane Eyre- amazingly, none of them had ever read it - I did begin to wonder if I was turning into the sort of English person who only really likes costume drama and novels about middle class people living in the Costwolds.
But I wonder if this longing to immerse yourself in the world of home is typical for an expat? Do you always want to read about home when you're away? Perhaps I'm mentally preparing myself for the move back (which is now definitely going to happen in summer 2013, by the way). Or perhaps it's just a form of escape - after all, one of the joys of reading is to escape into a novel, and why not escape to somewhere you're not?