Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Petite Anglaise – a Review


I think this book is the reason why personal blogs shouldn’t become books. Catherine Sanderson is a good writer, her story of falling in and out (and in and out) of love is interesting enough, as is her love affair with Paris and her adorable-sounding daughter. But to me, and I found the same with Julie and Julia, as a memoir/autobiography/blook – whatever category this kind of writing falls into – it doesn’t have the same seat-of-the-pants edge as the blog from which it originates.

Sanderson is engaging and frank about the nature of blogging and how that has had an impact on her life. She says Petite Anglaise (her blogging alias) was more confident and assertive than her offline self, and that she enjoyed having the ability to take an ordinary incident from her day and craft an amusing post from it that would generate interest and reaction from her readers. She also readily admits to taking incidents from the past and pretending they were more current, working out issues in her failing relationship online rather than with the person who mattered and ignoring her real-life friends for her online ones. As someone who has blogged for two years, has occasionally preferred blogging to talking and who has watched blog friends leave relationships for people they have met online, I can understand and see what Sanderson went through. Lonely and alienated, she found the online world an oasis of friendship and support.

However does it make a book? Clearly Penguin thinks so. Petite Anglaise is marketable – almost anyone who occasionally reads a British newspaper will have heard of her, how she left her boyfriend of seven years for someone she met online and then was fired from her job for “gross misconduct” (blogging at work occasionally, identifying herself and thus her company online – not surprisingly, she sued). She’s famous and fame sells. The trend for bloggers to get book deals is growing: Dooce is publishing a book, one I will read because she is hilarious – she makes David Sedaris look like a wet blanket – and her blog is growing boring with all those pictures of her dogs and retro design objets. I keep going back though because one in ten posts is coffee-snortingly funny. Dooce is an exceptional writer, and deserves the success she gets.

Petite Anglaise the book, however, is not exceptional. It’s a quick and easy read. Catherine is likeable and frank. She is honest about her failings, though I was disappointed that, presumably for legal reasons, there is no mention of the firing. The book, in effect, is less than the blog.

I remember being disappointed with Julia Powell’s Julie and Julia that the book wasn’t a series of her best blog posts. I didn’t ever follow her experiment (to cook her way through Julia Child’s massive tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking) online, and I expected the book to be a series of vignettes charting her progress. Instead, it was fluffed out with less fascinating personal detail. The same is true with Petite Anglaise: the blog itself was gripping in a reality TV, slice-of-life, car crash kind of way, and the book itself isn’t. It’s fluffy, and like candy floss, doesn’t satisfy.

I suppose the function of books like Julie and Julia and Petite Anglaise is to bring the best blogs to people who don’t read or know about blogs (if such people exist). If that’s the case, then I feel sorry for those people, because what they will find is an anodyne, watered-down version of an exciting new literary form.


Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

13 thoughts on “Petite Anglaise – a Review

  1. The great blog / mediocre book story is not new, unfortunately. The blog of The Girl with a One-Track Mind captivated Britain a while back, but to read the online reviews of her sexual tell-all book, you’d never buy it.
    I say chapeau to the bloggers who manage to land a deal and surf the wave of popularity while it lasts. Petite Anglaise has done well this way, managing to have a blog/work-related scandal blow up in her face at exactly the moment that mainstream media was discovering blogging as a social phenomenon. She was suddenly the ultimate underdog, and everyone loves an underdog.

    I tried to read her for a while, but lost interest. Might just be me.

  2. Dear Charlotte

    When I look at your writing, I sense a restlessness, dissatisfaction, frustration and anger. Have you read John Steinbeck’s ‘Journal of a Novel’ which are his field notes when he was putting East of Eden down onto paper? He suffered similar emotions.

    With great respect for you, may I suggest that turning forty will be the best thing that ever happened to you. It is the turning point beyond which we humans begin to create. I’m talking about writing. Somehow, we are not sufficiently mature before this time. The years of forty to seventy are much better than those of twenty to thirty nine. Just keep mentally and physically fit.

    You may smack me for impudence, but I query, why, when you had two and a half hours at the doctors, you didn’t have a notebook and pen with you so you could absorb yourself in field notes for your novel, characterization, plot, possibilities, etc?

    I would be delighted if you would accept a 4 000 word confession on writing a novel (three, in fact) ‘The Video Inside Your Head’. I don’t know whether it will make you laugh or cry. However, it is all true and is all happening right now. You are at liberty to throw it away if you don’t like it.

    I have the essay on Microsoft Word —— eight A4 pages, single spacing and well paragraphed for inviting reading. I don’t know whether your website will accept a copy and paste without turning so many words into four point or less. Otherwise I could attach it to an e-mail. Please let me know.

    Have you ever considered what theme music you would specify if a film was made of your novel? Kwela penny whistle? Beethoven’s Pastoral? The mischievous ‘Stoney’ (my choice for my own work).

    I looked at your list of reading matter and ask forgiveness in putting others in front of you that are way out of your normal choice, but might become very valuable to you: Ragtime by E L Doctorow; Addie Pray aka Paper Moon by Joe David Brown; The Fires of Spring by James Michener; The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (a brilliant interposition of chapters); To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (charmingly told by Scout, the nine year old girl); The Nightlife of the Gods (and other zany novels) by Thorne Smith; East of Eden by John Steinbeck; Tom Sawyer, A Connecticut Yankee in the Court of King Arthur by Mark Twain; The Siege of Southern Africa by the British journalist, Douglas Reid. (demonized by the far left, but a pretty fair assessment of how the Marxists tried to take over Africa as the colonial powers departed. It was only one of twenty eight books I read before I began my first novel which I set in Zimbabwe/Rhodesia.)

    All the best to you in your work.

    Have fun.


  3. I felt the same about Julie and Julia–too much fluff to pad out something that was sufficient as a blog (I assume, not having read it) but insufficient to really carry a book. I was going to say that perhaps it’s the “log” part of blogging, that diaries really don’t make compelling books. But then I think of Anne Frank, or Benjamin Franklin, or even Samuel Pepys. Of course, they were all writing about more weighty matters than cooking or sex and lawsuits….

  4. I know it often seems as if everyone in the world must know what a blog is by now, but in the USA (not sure about Canada, never read of any surveys done here) the people who have never read a blog, much less heard about one, regularly reaches or tops 50%.

  5. When I read in the paper that Catherine Sanderson had lost her job because of her blog, I thought: “Ooh that’s interesting,” but although I kept meaning to check her blog out I never got round to it. If anyone wanted to turn my blog into a book I’d have a screaming fit and say: “No way!”

    Bitter Is The New Black by Jen Lancaster is a book from a blog and I thought it was excellent and extremely funny. I didn’t read her blog until after I read the book, though.

  6. It’s funny. I read JULIA AND JULIE before I’d started blogging, and it was the book that pushed me to decide to start blogging. I loved the book at the time, but since reading it, I’ve met so many online who I think deserve book deals more than she did (you being one of them). I wish more publishing companies would say, “This person can WRITE! Maybe he/she would like to write a novel for
    us, “instead of trying to turn blogs into books. As we who like to play around out here in the blogosphere discuss all the time, they’re two very different sorts of things, and I doubt many blogs would make great books. They’re best read the way they’re written, piece by piece, not all at once. (Of course, having said that, I’m still eagerly awaiting QC’s book, but she’s SUCH a genius, I’m sure she can pull it off.)

  7. Oh, I think imani makes a good point. Here in rural Idaho, the number of people who have never even gone online (and have no desire to) reminds me that blogging, or even reading blogs, is by no means as commonplace as it feels to me!

  8. This is often the case with journal writers, too. Very few ever attain the quality of Anais Nin or other great journal writers.

  9. Pingback: When Publishing, Go Write A Proper God-Damned Book, Please?

  10. How VERY fascinating. I had tea with Rosy Thornton on Thursday and was amazed to hear how difficult it is for fiction writers to write what they want. Agents and editors are very demanding people it appears, and yet, in bowing to the gods of the commercial market, don’t they miss out on the special, individual, quirky qualities of the writer before them that ought to be nurtured rather than fed through the sausage making machine? Well, what do I know, but I can imagine now what happened in the journey from blog to book. When will editors learn to hone individuality rather than insist on the orthodox?

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  12. A very interesting post, especially since every man, woman and their dog in the food blogging world is scrabbling around for a book deal or putting together a proposal as we speak. I have a problem with turning a blog into a book. Part of what makes a blog appealing is the daily (or regular, in any event) window it gives you into another real person’s world. You get to know them and their families and adventures and have a chance of interaction. Unless you are a devastatingly good writer or have a truly extraordinary life, the same format is unlikely to be great as a book. Don’t get me wrong – I have no problem with bloggers writing books, but I don’t think the logical first choice is to turn your blog into a book, or to write abotu your blog in any way. Especially with foodblog books, I ask myself this: if you are already a reader of the blog, why would you rush out and buy a recipe book when so many of the recipes will be available for free on the blog? And if you are not already a reader of the blog, why would you buy some unknown person from the weird ‘n wonderful world of blogging’s recipe book rather than, say, Nigella’s? Just asking.

    Dooce rocks. It’s quite alarming how much I look forward to her “exclamation point” posts…

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