I can’t really say that I knew much about Julia Child prior to reading her autobiography, My Life in France, but now I’m not sure I like her very much. I knew that she had a groundbreaking television cooking show, and of course I knew about her famous first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but I didn’t know anything about her personally. My love of France and cooking made this book seem like a perfect fit. Perhaps this caused my expectations to be a little too high with this one.
This book takes you through her adult life with a special focus on her time in France and the birth of her first cookbook and the start of the show on public television. We learn about her early life in Pasadena, CA, her marriage to her beloved husband Paul, and her early life in France. We learn about her time at Cordon Bleu cooking school (back when there were no women), the trials and tribulations of the cookbooks, the start of the television show and her fast rise to fame.
Here was my issue: I wanted more. I didn’t just want a retelling of the factual events. I wanted more specifics about her learning to cook, about her love of France and French food. Instead, there were lots of details about the politics of the time, their moving to different countries, and all of her husband’s work issues, that frankly I just didn’t care anything about. Julia complains a lot about all of these difficult moments and in doing so gives the book a negative vibe. Sure, she painted a whole picture, what life was like for her during the famous moments of her life (writing the cookbook, starting the television show) but I wanted to know more about what made her so driven, where her passion for food and cooking came from. I never felt like I got it. Perhaps Julia was from a different generation where you just don’t talk about such things, even in an autobiography.
Sometimes learning the life details about famous people you admire backfires. At times the book took on a grumpy almost bitter tone. (Perhaps this was because I listened to the book instead of reading.) I expected the warm and funny Meryl Streep version of Child, like in the movie, Julie and Julia, but that is not what I got. What I got was grumpy, relentless ambition. The ambition stayed on the surface, never getting any depth and details as to what she was feeling and why.
I wanted more of some things and less of others, hence the reason I gave this book three stars out of five. I didn’t hate the book, but I didn’t love it either. The last half of the book was more interesting than the first half, mostly because of the cookbook and T.V. show details. Even though I am a known francophile and love to cook, some books just don’t click, and this one didn’t click for me.
My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’Homme
Published by Knopf April 2006
Where I read: Driving around town
Stephenie’s Goodreads Rating: 3 out of 5 stars