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The House in France: A Memoir [Deckle Edge] [Hardcover]

Gully Wells
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 21 2011
Set in Provence, London, and New York, this is a daughter’s brilliant and witty memoir of her mother and stepfather—Dee Wells, the glamorous and rebellious American journalist, and A. J. Ayer, the celebrated and worldly Oxford philosopher—and the life they lived at the center of absolutely everything.

Gully Wells takes us into the heart of London’s lively, liberated intellectual inner circle of the 1960s. Here are Alan Bennett, Isaiah Berlin, Iris Murdoch, Bertrand Russell, Jonathan Miller, Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens, Robert Kennedy, and Claus von Bülow, and later in New York a completely different mix: Mayor John Lindsay, Mike Tyson, and lingerie king Fernando Sánchez. We meet Wells’s adventurous mother, a television commentator earning a reputation for her outspoken style and progressive views, and her stepfather, an icon in the world of twentieth-century philosophy, proving himself as prodigious a womanizer as he is a thinker. Woven throughout is La Migoua, the old farmhouse in France, where evenings were spent cooking bouillabaisse with fish bought that morning in the market in Bandol, and afternoons included visits to M. F. K. Fisher’s favorite café on the Cours Mirabeau in Aix, with a late-night stop at the bullfighters’ bar in Arles. The house perched on a hill between Toulon and Marseille was where her parents and their friends came together every year, and where Gully herself learned some of the enduring lessons of a life well lived.

The House in France
is a spellbinding story with a luminous sense of place and a dazzling portrait of a woman who “caught the spirit of the sixties” and one of the most important intellectual figures of the twentieth century, drawn from the vivid memory of the child who adored them both.

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Review

'A superbly entertaining memoir full of delicious anecdote, witty portraiture, and unexpected pathos' Zoe Heller 'Travel, celebrity, infidelity - and a generous dose of Provence. Charming and fascinating' Peter Mayle, author of A Year in Provence 'Gully's writing is like her marvellous figure: lean, provocative and built for humour' Rupert Everett --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Gully Wells was born in Paris, brought up in London, educated at Oxford, and moved to New York in 1979. She is a features editor at Condé Nast Traveler magazine. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and children.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars love and laughter June 28 2011
Format:Hardcover
Gully Wells has the uncommon gift of bringing love and laughter to the story of her life. This is a memoir in which everything shines - the characters that surrounded her as she grew up, many famous in their day, and regarded as glamorous by those who knew them only from TV or the printed page, but seen here in all their "warts and all" glory, from a precocious child's eye view. With great affection, and a wonderfully well developed caricaturist's gift, she skewers the adults she knew in the 60s and 70s like some adolescent Levi-Strauss or Jane Goodall dissecting her world of chimps. Her ferociously rude and mordant mother, the American journalist and self-invented adventuress, Dee Wells; her brilliant but hapless and comically impractical step father, the Oxford philosopher, A.J. Ayer. The latter philandered his way obsessively through London, Paris and New York,like a pear shaped Don Juan, but was barely able to tie his shoe laces or boil an egg, apparently. On page after page, the book -- which in no way depends on the reader knowing who any of these once-illustrious people were -- is "laugh-out-loud" funny. In a life lived in constant motion, punctuated by adultery betrayal and divorce, the little summer house that belonged to her mother in the hills of Provence -- a magical place painted by Cezanne and van Gogh, and here brought deliciously to life by Wells in words -- was her still point in a whirligig world. Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Part travelloge and part family history June 27 2011
By Jill Meyer HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Gully Wells has written a wonderful memoir that deals frankly with both family history and dynamics in relation to her mother's holiday home in Provence. Wells, editor and writer at Conde Nast's Traveler, is the British born-and-raised daughter of two Americans who separated after her birth. She was raised in London by her mother and step-father, the noted philosopher A.J. Ayer. She also spent time with her father, an American in the diplomatic service. But the main emphasis - and the second lead character - is on Gully's mother, Dee Wells Ayer.

Dee Wells moved to London in the mid-1950's - young daughter in tow - after divorcing her husband. Dee and the ex split up on very good terms and remained friends and active in each other's lives until Dee's death. In fact, almost everyone in Gully's life were on good terms with everyone else. Former girlfriends and lovers mixed with current and future ones and the crowd Dee and Freddy (Ayer) ran with were amazingly, say, "lenient" in their morals. But they were a creative and intellectual bunch - Martin Amis, Bertrand Russell, Christopher Hitchins were among the few in the Ayers/Wells "crowd". Gully was given an education along the way and ended up at Oxford. She eventually married and settled with her - one and only - husband in the US.

But along the way, Gully Wells had fun. Fun in London, Oxford, Paris, the South of France, and New York. She had many friends - both male and female - but her closest friend was probably her mother, Dee. By turns loving, mercurial, perplexing, and other ying/yangs, Dee had a profound influence on Gully. And no where was that felt more than in Dee's house near Toulon. Dee entertained at the house and there were always visitors and adventures, both at home and at the restaurants and beaches in Provence.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  25 reviews
25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lesson in understanding and adoration June 21 2011
By Simply Luxurious - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
With exquisitely beautiful and frank detail, author Gully Wells shares in her memoir The House of France the memories she has of her mother Dee Wells and her step-father Sir Alfred Jules "Freddie" Ayer as she grew up in London, Paris and in their summer home situated between Toulon and Marseille all amongst the royal, social and political elite.

Wells consistently paints images of a young girl coming to understand her mother through her writing, the eccentricities she observed and why it was her mother became the fierce independent woman who spoke her mind with such resolute conviction being the glamorous and often rebellious American journalist who wrote for The Guardian, The New York Times as well as authored a successful book titled Jane released in 1973. Explaining how her mother's wisdom clearly molded her into the woman she became, Wells giftedly tells a seemingly objective description that isn't always flattering, but always intriguing; however, throughout the entire piece there is an undercurrent of utter love and adoration that can't be contained in the last few pages as she writes about her return to her mother's house in France and how after six years following her mother's death she is finally able to return as she has never been without her mother present until at that very moment.

Beginning in Paris where her mother and father met and married, readers will be delighted, shocked, impressed and charmed by this wonderfully scripted memoir that is a traveler's dream and a daughter's reality.

Excerpt from the book: "'Take a chance' - this was the precept she had always lived by, the impulse that had propelled her forward, the belief she clung to as fervently as any of the pilgrims who worshipped at the shrine of Notre-Dame du Beausset-Vieux, in that tiny chapel on top of the hill, behind our house."
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and hilarious June 27 2011
By sponkerina - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In the current flood of memoirs hitting the market, The House in France stands alone as a witty, wry portrait of an unusually clever and entertaining family. The book spans the life of Gully Wells from her childhood in the fifties through her coming of age in the sixties and her adulthood in contemporary New York City. She takes us on a breathless tour of literary London populated with many familiar names, not the least of whom, was her brilliant stepfather A.J.Ayer. Her mother, Dee Wells, was a journalist and television personality known for her "take no prisoners" conversational style.
The house of the title is an ancient, beloved farmhouse at the unfashionable end of the Cote d'Azur. It is here that the family shares their most delightful, outrageous and hilarious adventures with a cast of characters that would be impossible to invent. It is the single place they will all be forever drawn back to.

I can't recommend this book enough. It is not only highly entertaining, but laugh-out-loud funny, a perfect summer read.
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Shallow name-dropping Aug. 21 2011
By Daisy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I enjoy this kind of memoir and was looking forward to reading The House in France. What a disappointment! It was a struggle plodding on to the end, and the only reason I did was that based on the other, glowing, reviews, I thought at some point the book might get better. Nope, never did. Why it is of interest to anyone to read about these shallow, dysfunctional, artificial, and annoying people, is beyond me. The entire point of the book seems to be name-dropping. The author is repetitive, nay perseverative, in her zeal to tell us she knows anyone who is anyone. The author's mother comes across as an adulterous wife, negligent mother, and a vain, superficial person. The only thing this book proves is that people get to where they are in life based on their connections, certainly not on talent. As if we didn't know that already! My advice? Life is too short to waste on this book. Read Julia Child's "My Life in France" instead, much more enjoyable and written by someone who's actually contributed something.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Party Time May 1 2012
By Book Lover - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I first became aware of this book through an excerpt in Vogue magazine. Judging by the letters to the editor, the readers did not find the story of Gully losing her virginity to a much older, very oily, and very married Frenchman as amusing as the writer did. But no matter; the article was well written so I was curious about the rest of the story. Well....between all the infidelities, copious bottles of wine, great food and parties featuring intellectual and witty guests, everyone seems to having the greatest time. But are they really? Gully is at pains to say how great her unconventional mother and step-father were but every now and then, the mask drops and you see two enormously selfish people. At one point her mother moves to US with her lover and leaves her 16 year old son on his own in England with no arrangements for his care(he ends up staying with various friends). Later on Gully marries a terrific guy from the BBC and gets an offer to be an editor at Conde Nast Traveler, despite apparently never having worked as a journalist (yeah, I'm jealous). I found this book slightly irritating because everyone was so cool and bohemian and the only sin seemed to be being a bore; yet you get the sense there were some problems and hurt feelings and anger beneath the surface but these are quickly shoved under the rug with an off-the-cuff remark and we're on to another party. I give her props for not writing a "Mommie Dearest" kind of book but more perception would have been great. On the plus side, this is an engaging well-written book that will hold your interest. You'll either wish you could've been at one of these parties or be glad you only have to read about them.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Part travelloge and part family history June 27 2011
By Jill Meyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Gully Wells has written a wonderful memoir that deals frankly with both family history and dynamics in relation to her mother's holiday home in Provence. Wells, editor and writer at Conde Nast's Traveler, is the British born-and-raised daughter of two Americans who separated after her birth. She was raised in London by her mother and step-father, the noted philosopher A.J. Ayer. She also spent time with her father, an American in the diplomatic service. But the main emphasis - and the second lead character - is on Gully's mother, Dee Wells Ayer.

Dee Wells moved to London in the mid-1950's - young daughter in tow - after divorcing her husband. Dee and the ex split up on very good terms and remained friends and active in each other's lives until Dee's death. In fact, almost everyone in Gully's life were on good terms with everyone else. Former girlfriends and lovers mixed with current and future ones and the crowd Dee and Freddy (Ayer) ran with were amazingly, say, "lenient" in their morals. But they were a creative and intellectual bunch - Martin Amis, Bertrand Russell, Christopher Hitchins were among the many in the Ayers/Wells "crowd". Gully was given an education along the way and ended up at Oxford. She eventually married and settled with her - one and only - husband and their two children in New York City.

But along the way, Gully Wells had fun. Fun in London, Oxford, Paris, the South of France, and New York. She had many friends - both male and female - but her closest friend was probably her mother, Dee. By turns loving, mercurial, perplexing, and other ying/yangs, Dee had a profound influence on Gully. And no where was that felt more than in Dee's house near Toulon. Dee entertained at the house and there were always visitors and adventures, both at home and at the restaurants and beaches in Provence. Meals, no matter where taken, were always treats in culinary adventures. Gully Wells name and place drops on almost every page, but rather than sounding like braggadocio, her stories are always interesting. Two degrees of separation between intellectual and artistic giants, and all that, all in Dee and Gully's lives and homes.

Wells is a very good writer. You might not know all the people she writes about - most are gone now - but you'll probably wish you did, after reading her memoir.
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