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A House in Flanders by Michael Jenkins

A House in Flanders (1992)

by Michael Jenkins

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Bittersweet reminiscences of an adolescent summer spent in the country among "the aunts" and their neighbors outside a small village in the north of France, a few years after the end of World War II. Each chapter is a reflection on one individual who shared and contributed to that life-changing summer. It's not a cheery, care-free sort of memoir, but what an absolute treat to read.
Reviewed in 2011 ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | Sep 30, 2016 |
Michael Jenkins's stint as Ambassador to the Netherlands was the crown on a life-long career in the Foreign Office, many postings of which were served in Europe. It was therefore with some interest that I picked up this small book, A house In Flanders.

The book consists of some 10 chapters, each devoted to one of Jenkins' aunts. While no particular geographical reference is given anywhere in the book, it seems quite clear that the House mentioned in the title of the book is not in Flanders. What a bummer!

The books consists of the author's reminiscences of a summer spent with the French branch of his family in his youth. This might have resulted in an interesting book if the reader could learn something about the time and culture of that place and that locality.

However, the book is nothing but a tedious read about these grumpy, old relatives of Sir Jenkins. It lacks freshness, not surprisingly, being the memoirs of a summer written half a century later. It bored me to death. ( )
  edwinbcn | Oct 3, 2011 |
When the young Michael Jenkins is sent to the house of some "aunts" in Flanders for a summer just after the war, aunts whom he has never met and who aren't really biological aunts, the shy, introverted pre-teen might be forgiven for feelings of trepidation. What unfolds, however, is an experience which gives him a sense of deep roots with these wonderful women (and an "uncle") and which gave this reader a few wonderful hours of reading.

His writing of this extended stay is luminous and certainly profoundly loving. He grows in every way conceivable, from height to self-confidence. I think the ground is laid for his later work as an ambassador, as this one and the next invites him into their confidence. Welcomed into their home, their lives, and into the life of the nearby village, this summer is one of those watershed moments we are sometimes fortunate enough to experience in life; a time which changed everything for him. How lucky for us that Michael Jenkins put pen to paper about all of it. ( )
8 vote tiffin | Jul 19, 2010 |
This appealing little book bound in warm, coarse blue cloth has a 1950s feel, appropriate to the narrative set in the early 1950s in France. The author, several decades after the event, reminiscences on a 2-month stay he made at the age of 14, in a house in the north of France, with some tenuous relatives, a large household of elderly women, one uncle, the cook and a gardener. Little happens, the book is mostly atmosphere of postwar France still tending its wounds - revived when a German soldier, Otto, returns to visit the house he was billeted in - and the people: Tante Yvonne who gave up any ideas of marriage to run the household, which she does with intelligence and benevolence, Tante Thérèse, Oncle Auguste, Tante Lise and various villagers, not forgetting the dog Mardi, and the 20-year-old Madeleine. The characters are well observed, I can imagine them all in an episode of Maigret (the series with Jean Richard as the Commissaire); all that is missing is a murder. ( )
  overthemoon | Jul 5, 2010 |
In this somewhat gloomy book Michael Jenkins, a distinguished diplomat, looks back to 1951 when, as a young teenager, he spent a summer holiday with several elderly pseudo-relatives in a 'great house' in Flanders which, like the inhabitants, had seen better days.

Jenkins writes easily and well, and the book is neither long nor demanding to read, with short chapters in each of which the character and foibles of one of the principal inhabitants is examined by recounting some incident in which they played a part. Although the house was inhabited by other children as well, they do not appear in the story, and Jenkins' attention is focussed almost entirely on the septuagenarians and octogenarians; he certainly seems to have been an unusual teenager in the delight that he took in this quiet and claustrophobic way of life, in a very rural and undeveloped corner of north-eastern France.

The book was written forty years after the event, and Jenkins admits to having used a great deal of imagination; consequently it is best seen not so much as a true chronicle of events but rather as an evocation of a generation and a way of life that has now passed away. For that reason this book is certainly worth reading, but you need to be in right mood: it will not lift the spirits. ( )
  franhigg | Jul 10, 2006 |
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Quelque autre te dira d'une plus forte voix,
Les faits de tes aïeux et les vertus des rois,
Je vais t'entretenir de moindres aventures.

La Fontaine,
Letter to the Dauphin
For Maxine, Catherine and Nicholas
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The old lady is seated at one end of the long table in the dining-room absorbed in some accounts, glasses perched on her nose.
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