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BOOK REVIEW:

The house in France : a memoir

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Call Number: 
071.092 W453We

In this sparkling, joyful family memoir, Gully Wells has created an homage to her mother, the irrepressible Dee Wells, not exactly a rock of stability, but who did create a vacation house that would become a solid lodestone in the lives of her children, grandchildren, husband, lovers and friends. She bought a ramshackle farmhouse that was clinging to a hillside in southern France and made it into a vacation home that became a summer retreat, and respite for some, from a busy life in England.

Dee Wells was a femme fatale who at times unwittingly attracted men wherever she went. However, if she deliberately set her sights on a male object of affection, the guy was a goner. And that is just what happened when she met the Oxford don, and leading philosopher of logical positivism, A. J. Ayer. It took her several years, but she snared him as her second husband. A restless woman for whom a stormy life was the only way to live it. She was a wit, a wise-cracking, swearing woman who prefaced many a retort with “For chrissakes . . .” and other imaginative combinations of expletives that only a longshoreman would immediately understand. Nothing slowed her down, except in her last years when a lifelong habit of heavy smoking wreaked havoc with her circulatory system and necessitated a leg amputation. Otherwise she continued to be a unique fascinator who created excitement. Dee Wells referred to herself as “a wild savage” and her daughter, Gully, described her mother as being “. . . more fun than anybody else on earth.”

Dee Wells was a journalist, a raconteur, or as Gully refers to her--one of the great yackers who, at one time in her life, became a television personality in England. She and A.J. Ayer, aka Freddie, knew or were known by numerous people in the international world of politics, the arts and sciences, and media. The memoir is replete with the well-known and the well-acomplished. For Gully, it was frequently reassuring to be lulled to sleep in her bed by the distant, ongoing conversation of those gathered at the family dinner table.

Throughout this memoir, Gully Wells weaves in her own adventurous, glittering life, and eventual marriage with children of her own. After her mother's death, it took six years for Gully to summon the courage to visit La Migoua, the old French farmhouse. Fearful that without her mother there the house would be a place of sadness and gloom, but it was just the oppoisite--it was a touchstone of comfort and joy.

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