As her memoir opens, Catherine Sanderson has become an unhappy person. She loves her one-year-old daughter but finds motherhood demanding and frustrating. She is discontent in her relationship with her long-time partner. And even Paris, the city in which she's dreamed of living since childhood, is losing its luster for her.
So she finds a new love, ripe to be showered with devotion and attention. Well, she also has an affair. But the real object of Catherine's affection in the memoir Petite Anglaise is not "Jim from Rennes," who becomes her new boyfriend, but rather her blog, also called Petite Anglaise. Indeed, on a dull afternoon when her various sources of malcontent seem insurmountable, Catherine opens a page on her computer and starts writing. And then hits "publish," and a relationship is born.
This is the first memoir I've read about a girl and her blog. (The memoir "Julie and Julia" by Julie Powell stemmed from a blog, but the author makes only passing mention of it in the narrative, whereas for Sanderson it is a key player in her life.) At first, the blog is a creative outlet and an escape, but it gradually takes on the role of savior. Through her blog, she not only vents her feelings but also experiments a little bit. Like a lot of people, Catherine is a little more clever, a little sassier, a little more adventuresome in her writing than in her real life. Although she initially believes Petite Anglaise is merely a reflection of herself, she eventually comes to recognize that it is more, and as her life develops in new directions - she makes new friends through the blog, breaks up with her partner, and starts an affair with a reader - she gradually begins to question whether she is living through her character, whether her character is controlling her, or just what the releationship between the two -- the real Catherine Sanderson and the blog persona - might be.
Artists have explored the relationships between themselves and their creations ever since the myth of Pygmalion, and the fact that Sanderson uses the state-of-the-art social media to do it doesn't make this an entirely new story, but as blogging and other forms of social media such as Facebook becomes epidemic, it's interesting to think about who we are in relation to our screen selves. Sanderson isn't a fascinating or even always likable person, but she's willing to admit that, both to her memoir readers and to readers of her blog. She struggles with her decisions, and for every time she second-guesses herself, most notably when she breaks up with her daughter's father, she has dozens of blog readers chiming in with their own opinions in the "comments" section of her blog. The unexamined life may not be worth living, as Socrates said; the overexamined life, brought to us by Netscape, presents a whole other set of challenges.
Beyond the questions of blogging and self-reflection, Sanderson simply has an interesting story to tell about life as an ex-pat and young mother in Paris. She loves the city but struggles with its limitations - the daycare situation, the difficulty of finding a suitable apartment, even the dingy appearance of the city of light in late winter - and this memoir is enlightening for those aspects as well as the ones related to social media. Sanderson isn't always a terrific writer, and her romantic scenes border on the Harlequin-esque, but possibly that's the point, to some extent. She's not a great writer but we like reading about her anyway, because she's so candid and so real. And that may be the beauty of blogging.