I bought this book as a gift for a friend last year, before buying a copy to read for myself. When I asked him how he had liked it he was noncommittal. I’m not surprised. 1000 Years of Annoying the French was written by Stephen Clarke, author of several books about living in France – the Merde series – including A Year in the Merde. The weak, off colour joke is quite typical of this book. (Merde is French for shit – though I expect you know that.)
Clarke is exceptionally knowledgeable about France and all things French, and this history of French English relations is full of details, and gives a new perspective (for me) on a story I know quite well from a different point of view. He selects key events from history, and explores them – showing how the French blame Britain for misfortunes that were often their own responsibility – such as the loss of their American empire. He claims that champagne was invented by an English scientist, not the French, that Joan of Arc was betrayed by the French to the English to be burnt. In this way he gives a new and sometimes comic twist to Anglo-French relations.
1000 Years of Annoying the French is a “Sunday Times Best Seller”. That tells us quite a lot about the readership – Murdoch loving Colonel Blimps with handle bar moustaches and Union Jacks in the back garden. It’s a long book – 600 pages or so – and in this sense very much value for money. But it does get a bit relentless as it moves on from one epoch to the next, and the humour, whilst occasionally bright and lively, is after awhile quite predictable and even a little irritating.