I’ve been in England for two weeks, promoting this book about France and two encounters with British broadsheets have given me an interesting lesson in the workings of the media in this country.
The first newspaper contacted my publishers offering to run an ‘extract’ from the book. Great excitement all round: it was every writer’s and every publisher’s dream. I was not particularly surprised when I learned that they were interested in a chapter called ‘The discrete charm of the bourgeoisie’ which features an account of a Parisian dinner party I once attended with my husband, which – for a small handful of the guests – moved seamlessly from good food, and good conversation, to good sex. My point in the chapter, was to note my astonishment – and my admiration – at the relatively guiltless nature of the incident for the people involved. I have no interest in judgment, really. It bores me but I was interested in what the incident revealed about my own conditioning and about the differences inherent in our two cultures. Clearly, this was an exceptional occurrence but there was something in the way it played out that spoke of an entirely different attitude towards pleasure.
When I opened the paper that Sunday morning I discovered that they had not actually run ‘an extract’ but had instead ‘extracted’, as they put it, from the book, all the bits that they found most juicy and then jammed them all together. This, of course meant all the various references or anecdotes relating to my own experience of the French attitude towards sex. When I read it, one of the things I felt was pity for those prospective readers who would rush to amazon thinking that they were buying a book about sex only to find that they were being asked to read about things like, politics, religion and history.
The second incident flowed inevitably from the first. Another national newspaper had read the ‘extracted bits’ and someone called to ask me for an interview. Once again, as I would discover, it wasn’t really an ‘interview’. It was a conversation with a journalist over the telephone about the sexy bits, which she would then write up ‘in the style of the paper’, as she phrased it, and then put into the first person. (!) I was immediately wary of such a procedure: words written ‘in the style of the paper’ but passed off as my own? It sounded dangerous. And of course it was. However vigilant you are, ultimately they’re not your words and the photos and captions flag a message that leaves you staring at yourself in bewilderment and asking, who on earth is that?
I take great comfort from the fact that these experiences confirm the thesis in my book about the nature of the British press and its roots in protestant morality.