France, Miranda 1966-
FRANCE, Miranda 1966-
PERSONAL: Born December 11, 1966, in Colchester, Essex, England; daughter of Malcolm (an Anglican vicar and writer) and Elisabeth France; married Carl Honore, June 29, 1996. Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: University of Edinburgh, M.A. (first-class honors), 1989. Hobbies and other interests: Mountains, the sea, cafes, music, books.
ADDRESSES: Home—London, England. Agent— Derek Johns, A. P. Watt Ltd., 20 John St., London SC1N 2AR, England. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Freelance journalist in Edinburgh, Scotland, 1989-93; foreign correspondent from Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1993-95; freelance journalist, London, England, 1995—. University of Edinburgh, part-time teacher of Spanish literature, 1992-93.
MEMBER: Society of Authors.
AWARDS, HONORS: Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize, Spectator, 1996, for the essay "Bad Times in Buenos Aires."
Bad Times in Buenos Aires: A Writer's Adventures in Argentina (travel book), Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1998, Ecco Press (Hopewell, NJ), 1999.
Contributor to magazines and newspapers, including the Spectator, Guardian, and Literary Review.
SIDELIGHTS: Miranda France's body of work includes what she herself has termed "unconventional" travel books. Her first book, Bad Times in Buenos Aires: A Writer's Adventures in Argentina, which grew out of her prize-winning essay of the same name, depicts a city that France found "both fascinating and very troubling," as she once told CA. France, who lived in the Argentine capital for two years in the early 1990s, continued, "Its inhabitants struck me as peculiarly ill at ease, many of them haunted by a turbulent history they were neither able to explain nor overcome. People relied on psychoanalysis to an extraordinary degree. I was particularly interested that very different sorts of people, from grave diggers to aristocrats, used the same arguments to describe their conditions. Bad Times in Buenos Aires is therefore an investigation into what has gone wrong in Argentina, but it is also a very personal portrait of an immigrant society 'abandoned,' as more than one person put it to me, 'at the end of the world.' Serious as it sounds, it has its funny moments."
The city's "turbulent history" includes the arrests in the 1970s of those opposed to the Argentine government; many of them were taken into custody from public places, in front of numerous witnesses, and never seen again. While France's sojourn in Buenos Aires comes many years later, the memory of the purges "shapes this book as if death squads still marauded through the streets," as Marie Arana observed in the Washington Post Book World. In the 1990s, dangers to residents of Buenos Aires include a psychological disorder known as "urban stress" and the possibility of serious injury or death by falling into one of the numerous holes in the streets created by a massive construction project.
Arana, while commenting that France wielded "a deft pen," thought the author offered little new insight into her subject, providing instead "a pert version of a stale story." New York Times Book Review contributor Adam Goodheart, however, found Bad Times in Buenos Aires "remarkable" and praised France as a writer of "sly and salacious truths" who made "the old familiar world seem terrible and strange."
Don Quixote's Delusions: Travels in Castilian Spain refers in its title to the eponymous dreamer-hero of Miguel de Cervantes's classic 1605 novel. It "is also an 'unconventional' travel book," France told CA. "Ostensibly it is about Spain, and the years I spent living there as a student in Madrid in the late 1980s. This was said to be the capital's 'swinging' decade, when drugs were legal, parties went on all night, and nobody was doing any serious work. The neighborhood where I lived was home to transvestites, poets, and Latin American revolutionaries. Ten years later, on the cusp of the new millennium, I went back to find that Spain had changed—and so had I. The resulting book is therefore a portrait of the post-Franco era, of my own youthful infatuation with Spain, and of the sober reckoning that followed."
"But it is also a literary investigation into Don Quixote, Spain's most famous export, and the world's most translated book after the Bible. In the 400 years since it was published, this extraordinarily profound book has fascinated and perplexed writers including Mann, Nabokov, Dostoevsky, and Woolf. In probing Cervantes's genius, one inevitably stumbles on philosophical questions about love and life—and I had great fun trying to answer them!"
France juxtaposes analysis of Cervantes's book against her observations of Spain during her student years and her return visit a decade later. The result is "a poetic riff on the nature of Spanishness," related Sara Wheeler in London's Sunday Times. Wheeler further called the work "a sophisticated, multilayered book engineered with great subtlety." New Statesman commentator Jan Morris added that France, "though she is never dismissive about the grandeur of Spain, wonderfully evokes its comedy," mingling descriptions of urban grit and rural religiosity with her excursions into literature and history.
A Publishers Weekly reviewer thought France's discussion of Don Quixote "functions equally well as a refresher or introduction," while Library Journal critic George M. Jenks deemed her work "awash with frank observations" that would enlighten readers about both the nation and the novel. Morris summed up Don Quixote's Delusions by saying, "This is an entirely admirable book, and one can't say fairer than that."
France once told CA: "I probably have two reasons for writing: the first is simply a desire to convey information in a compelling and memorable way. To that end, I try to engage the reader with a style which I hope is original, fluent, and funny. The second is a love of the English language and its unrivaled possibilities for innovation. My inspirations are often writers who have turned their hands to both fiction and reportage, for instance Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, and V. S. Naipaul. Other favorite contemporary authors include Alice Munroe, Muriel Spark, and John Updike."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Library Journal, July, 2002, George M. Jenks, review of Don Quixote's Delusions: Travels in Castilian Spain, p. 107.
New Statesman, July 2, 2001, Jan Morris, "Southern Soul."
New York Times Book Review, June 6, 1999, Adam Goodheart, review of Don Quixote's Delusions, p. 7.
Publishers Weekly, June 10, 2002, review of Don Quixote's Delusions, pp. 51-52.
Sunday Times (London, England), June 17, 2001, Sara Wheeler, "Lady of Spain."
Washington Post Book World, June 6, 1999, Marie Arana, "Tangos and Tyrants," p. 4.