WHAT makes France tick? It is a question many people ask themselves after spending some time in the country.
They wonder how the government gets away with supporting so many struggling businesses, whilst other European countries face the cold winds of market forces.
And how can the French rail network work like clockwork yet at the flick of a switch passengers are stranded on train station platforms?
In Jonathan Fenby’s On the Brink, the Trouble with France, many of the contradictions of French life are examined and dissected.
Drawing on his journalistic experience working for a variety of news organisations he takes you through the recent history of France.
From the trials and tribulations of business scandals and political infighting; to the recent 2002 presidential elections he uncovers many interesting facts.
His coverage of the election, which saw far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen face Jacques Chirac in the final round of voting, encapsulates the problems France must face.
Many voters did not believe that the left or right could change anything so they used the opportunity to register a protest vote.
This lack of direction and belief in the system, which sits alongside a protected network of businessmen and politicians, lies at the heart of many of the country’s problems.
But this is not a dry, academic version of events as Jonathan Fenby illuminates his work with thorough research that blends into the points he makes.
For example, France has the largest number of Nobel Prizes for literature, yet 40 per cent of books borrowed from libraries are comic strips.
It is these illuminating insights that build up to provide a glimpse into a country that has an almost magical draw over people.
Yet faces many challenges both within its borders and outside to ensure it does not slip back in time.
Paperback. 447 pages.
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