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The House in France: A Memoir

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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 intelle 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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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 intelle 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.

30 review for The House in France: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Peter Foges

    I absolutely adored this witty, worldly memoir about bad people having a good time in the wacky 1960s. Sex, adultery, illegitimacy, food, wine, celebrity (lots and lots), drugs and just the right dose of the divine South of France in the summer heat. It doesn't depend on knowing who all these comic characters are (or were), since the effect is like that of a brilliantly composed picaresque novel. It even made me laugh out loud (rare I find in books these days, especially memoirs) -- and though t I absolutely adored this witty, worldly memoir about bad people having a good time in the wacky 1960s. Sex, adultery, illegitimacy, food, wine, celebrity (lots and lots), drugs and just the right dose of the divine South of France in the summer heat. It doesn't depend on knowing who all these comic characters are (or were), since the effect is like that of a brilliantly composed picaresque novel. It even made me laugh out loud (rare I find in books these days, especially memoirs) -- and though there are very touching moments too, I wanted it to go on and on. She writes so well with a wry, well-observed sense of the absurd that I'd recommend it to anyone. A wonderful summer read!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    my parents fucked a lot of famous people. good for you, gully.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Beth Bonini

    Gully Wells - a features editor at Conde Nast Traveler magazine, and the product of Oxford and a highly privileged, well-connected upbringing - writes well, with humour and a vivid voice. The subject of this memoir is ostensibly her mother Dee Wells, but it ends up being a series of colourful 'snapshots' which never quite add up to a satisfying and whole portrait - neither of herself nor her mother. From the beginning, the author describes her journey back to the family's summer house in France Gully Wells - a features editor at Conde Nast Traveler magazine, and the product of Oxford and a highly privileged, well-connected upbringing - writes well, with humour and a vivid voice. The subject of this memoir is ostensibly her mother Dee Wells, but it ends up being a series of colourful 'snapshots' which never quite add up to a satisfying and whole portrait - neither of herself nor her mother. From the beginning, the author describes her journey back to the family's summer house in France as a way or reconnecting with her lost mother. It may have accomplished that purpose for the writer, but for the reader, the inimitable Dee Wells remains an opaque subject matter. Wells was an American writer and journalist who ended up in London after the war and was firmly ensconced in journalistic, academic and upper-class 'posh' circles - partly because of her intelligence and wit, and partly because of her marriage to the philosopher and Oxford academic A.J. 'Freddie' Ayer. If you are fascinated with London life in that turbulent period between the post-war 1950s, the swinging 60s, and the louche 70s, you are bound to find interest in this book. It's also quite good on literary gossip, although it conceals more than it reveals. Let me put it this way: there were a lot of affairs, a lot of cigarettes and a lot of bottles of champagne. The main problem, for me, was the scattershot approach to the timeline and to the illustrative anecdotes. It is very loosely chronological, but lots of minutiae (particularly of food) takes precedence over the more solid filling-in of a story. The author throws around a lot of names, sometimes without much context at all, and it just reminded me of one of those solipsistic conversations in which the speaker assumes you know all of the people and places they are talking about. I enjoyed it, to a point, but I felt it could have been so much better.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Laurel Kane

    The excerpt in this month's Vogue is fantastic The excerpt in this month's Vogue is fantastic

  5. 5 out of 5

    WB1

    I wanted to like this book a lot. It's essentially a memoir of Gully Wells, growing up in London, the daughter of Dee Wells, an American writer in the 60's and 70's. Dee Wells was flamboyant, funny, smart and, in the end, kind of mysterious. Gully Wells's stepfather was the philosopher, A.J. Ayer. The memoir is entirely affectionate. Dee Wells and Ayer had many affairs. Their lives revolved around a glittering set of writers, politicians, academics, etc. . Why did this book irritate me? Everyone I wanted to like this book a lot. It's essentially a memoir of Gully Wells, growing up in London, the daughter of Dee Wells, an American writer in the 60's and 70's. Dee Wells was flamboyant, funny, smart and, in the end, kind of mysterious. Gully Wells's stepfather was the philosopher, A.J. Ayer. The memoir is entirely affectionate. Dee Wells and Ayer had many affairs. Their lives revolved around a glittering set of writers, politicians, academics, etc. . Why did this book irritate me? Everyone is upper class, has plenty of money and seems to live in a Noel Coward world that, for most of us, has nothing to do with reality. Dee Wells seems to write about fashion and film. But this is handled in a cursory way in favor of the dinner parties that seemed to highlight her life. Also handled in a cursory way is, who was Dee Wells? Her past is so elusive that she ends up being far less interesting than her daughter seems to think she was. Beyond this, the second half of the book veers towards a memoir about Gully Wells. She name drops a lot. Do I care that her first big affair was with Martin Amis? What's the point except to drop his name. Do I care that she gets a job handed to her by Harold Evans? Do I really care about her reaction to 9/11, which was to run to her child's school. There wasn't enough on her mother's life.. And there's far too much on Gully's. I began skipping page after page of fancy French lunches and dinners, described in mind-numbing detail. Did she ever eat a hamburger? That may be a silly point but the description of all that French food deadened the book. At one point she seems to say that her mother had an affair with Robert Kennedy. But it's raised obliquely. And then quickly dropped. Dee Wells may have been fascinating. But this memoir doesn't really explain why.

  6. 4 out of 5

    AudreyLovesParis

    This book was a monumental waste of a perfectly good afternoon. Gully Wells is a pretentious, name-dropping quasi-author who would be better off leaving the writing for those who can. The title of the book is very misleading. It is not a book for Francophiles and the house is barely mentioned. It's more about "Look at my fabulously wealthy and hedonistic lifestyle." A word of advice if you are thinking of reading this: Don't bother. P.S. A troll by the name of Peter Foges may be commenting shortly This book was a monumental waste of a perfectly good afternoon. Gully Wells is a pretentious, name-dropping quasi-author who would be better off leaving the writing for those who can. The title of the book is very misleading. It is not a book for Francophiles and the house is barely mentioned. It's more about "Look at my fabulously wealthy and hedonistic lifestyle." A word of advice if you are thinking of reading this: Don't bother. P.S. A troll by the name of Peter Foges may be commenting shortly that this book has " the effect ... of a brilliantly composed picaresque novel." Blah, blah, blah. At least try to come up with a new description each time you are trollimg. Peter, the emperor has no clothes.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sheila

    I picked up this book at a knock-down book table at my lovely local bookstore; I was heading north for a kayak trip and needed something to read in case it rained for five days. (Mercifully it didn't and the trip was great or I'd have been mightily irked by the time I got home.) Lots of famous people, glamour, and never-ending parties but finally a very depressing read. It's an apology for unforgivable behaviour from both her mother and her stepfather - the former rude, vengeful and neglectful, t I picked up this book at a knock-down book table at my lovely local bookstore; I was heading north for a kayak trip and needed something to read in case it rained for five days. (Mercifully it didn't and the trip was great or I'd have been mightily irked by the time I got home.) Lots of famous people, glamour, and never-ending parties but finally a very depressing read. It's an apology for unforgivable behaviour from both her mother and her stepfather - the former rude, vengeful and neglectful, the latter a terrible philanderer. Oh, isn't it amusing, Wells tells us over and over again. Aren't they clever? Aren't I lucky? The way her younger brother is treated (or ignored) is heartbreaking - as is the way her mother treats Gully herself (though mercifully for her she's a girl, which is a plus as far as her mother is concerned). There's a painful scene where she talks about how she finds herself sitting in a pool of blood in a friend's car because her so-called liberated mother neglected to tell her about menstruation. The writing about food is good - and Wells seems to have a genuine tolerance and affection for all kinds of eccentricity - but I found myself appalled by it all. Only her father comes out of the memoir sounding like a generous and loving human being who doesn't put himself first.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jrabach

    Didn;t enjoy it... read to about page 100. Like reading a long monologue of a boring family member going on and on and on about other family, dinner parties, etc.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Margo

    I enjoy this biography when it’s light, evocative and full of food and recipes. Unfortunately, Wells tries to delve into deeper topics such as poverty and 9/11 she just has such a vague handle on them as to sound facetious. I really wish they’d cut those out and made it super light reading all the way through. It would’ve made for a zippier read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sylvia Tedesco

    The kind of book I thoroughly enjoy. Certainly not for goody-two shoes. Funny, sad, delightful and real. I'm adding more to this review later. The kind of book I thoroughly enjoy. Certainly not for goody-two shoes. Funny, sad, delightful and real. I'm adding more to this review later.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lucy Wightman

    I am gullible, Ask anyone who knows me. I can sit through virtually any movie, because I can believe the story, even if it's bad. This, I have determined, is for the same reasons I can take good photographs - if it is in front of me, I can notice something good and curious about it. Words are not enough to give me that primitive "in-front-of-me" feel. To be captivated means I cannot be annoyed on a regular basis. This book annoyed me in so many ways I could not finish it. When I was younger, I wo I am gullible, Ask anyone who knows me. I can sit through virtually any movie, because I can believe the story, even if it's bad. This, I have determined, is for the same reasons I can take good photographs - if it is in front of me, I can notice something good and curious about it. Words are not enough to give me that primitive "in-front-of-me" feel. To be captivated means I cannot be annoyed on a regular basis. This book annoyed me in so many ways I could not finish it. When I was younger, I would drip water on my own forehead and give myself finger-prick blood tests in order to complete any book I started. Now that I am older, I see how much time my ego wasted for me. It was oh so easy to return this book to the library. Buh-bye. I wasn't sure; was it a New Yorker article with rapid-fire phrases and culturally fresh descriptions? was it an awkwardly slow story pretending to become fine literature? maybe it was a food book? There was no conflict, no suspense, no change and no hook at all. I refused to drip water on my head just to finish a book that sounded like such a nice getaway. Shallow, repetitive and annoying about sums it up.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Debra

    Mainly a memoir of journalist Gully Wells and her family (and their famous friends) and how a house in Provence wove its way through their lives. A self indulgent life of sexual liaisons, drinking and cigarettes made this seem like a European version of Kenya's Happy Valley colony. Maybe I would have enjoyed this more had I been familiar with Dee Wells and J.J. Ayer. My ignorance of their fame left me rather floundering in much of the book. Sometimes it seemed like Wells was namedropping her fami Mainly a memoir of journalist Gully Wells and her family (and their famous friends) and how a house in Provence wove its way through their lives. A self indulgent life of sexual liaisons, drinking and cigarettes made this seem like a European version of Kenya's Happy Valley colony. Maybe I would have enjoyed this more had I been familiar with Dee Wells and J.J. Ayer. My ignorance of their fame left me rather floundering in much of the book. Sometimes it seemed like Wells was namedropping her family's famous friends without often providing depth of portraiture. Interesting enough, but I would mainly recommend it to those with an already present interest in the subjects. The writing will not inspire such an interest.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Podurham

    A friend of mine (a lady of a certain age)recommended this book to me. While I thought it was well written, with sparks of humor and a savoring love of food and frivality, at times it was as though "you had to be there" to really understand the cultural landscape of that time. This isn't another francophile book, but rather a memoir of Gully Wells and her unusual family who lived primarily in England as well as the United States. I give it a lukewarm, at best, thumbs up. A friend of mine (a lady of a certain age)recommended this book to me. While I thought it was well written, with sparks of humor and a savoring love of food and frivality, at times it was as though "you had to be there" to really understand the cultural landscape of that time. This isn't another francophile book, but rather a memoir of Gully Wells and her unusual family who lived primarily in England as well as the United States. I give it a lukewarm, at best, thumbs up.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Van Leadam

    Pacey but otherwise boring and forgettable upper-class chick lit and ego-trip in one. Too superficial and cheery for an account of a lightly troubled childhood, adolescence and early womanhood. The author is more interested in who passes through her life, especially if famous, providing the reader with nothing that makes them and her really interesting. She's just too fabulous to notice. The book contains enough name-dropping to last the average reader for months. Pacey but otherwise boring and forgettable upper-class chick lit and ego-trip in one. Too superficial and cheery for an account of a lightly troubled childhood, adolescence and early womanhood. The author is more interested in who passes through her life, especially if famous, providing the reader with nothing that makes them and her really interesting. She's just too fabulous to notice. The book contains enough name-dropping to last the average reader for months.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. From BBC Radio 4: The House In France is the childhood memoir of Gully Wells, now the Features Editor at Conde Nast Traveller magazine. Gully was the long time girlfriend of Martin Amis, the dedicatee of his first novel and features as the character Lily in his latest work, The Pregnant Widow.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    BORING! Didn't quite finish it because I was so tired of reading it.... BORING! Didn't quite finish it because I was so tired of reading it....

  17. 5 out of 5

    Genevieve

    Story about a bunch of people with loose morals, but a great "period piece" and so well-written you can't help yourself. Story about a bunch of people with loose morals, but a great "period piece" and so well-written you can't help yourself.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Meredith

    Joyous. Wicked. Smells, tastes, sounds like pleasure and adventure and lavender and garlic and rosé, as well as Guerlain; Oxford College; Greenwich Village and Annabel's in London. We vicariously enjoy delicious food in romantic places and parties we wished we had been invited to, spy on dinners we would have loved to attend. Vastly funnier and more amusing than "privileged people enjoying their privileges", it is clever people provoking other clever people to be more brilliant, more intelligent Joyous. Wicked. Smells, tastes, sounds like pleasure and adventure and lavender and garlic and rosé, as well as Guerlain; Oxford College; Greenwich Village and Annabel's in London. We vicariously enjoy delicious food in romantic places and parties we wished we had been invited to, spy on dinners we would have loved to attend. Vastly funnier and more amusing than "privileged people enjoying their privileges", it is clever people provoking other clever people to be more brilliant, more intelligent and more exciting. A reminder of a time before shiny-haired instagrammers took over the web, when wit and curiosity and being well read were considered important and useful traits.

  19. 4 out of 5

    JodiP

    I hadbegun this book on CD earlier this year, but had to return it before finishing. I took it with me to Puerto Rico, thinking I would find the spot where I left off and go from there. I ended up re-reading the entire book. Wells is that good a writer and the story is so interesting. Her life and that of her mother is so different from mine. Unlike a lot of memoir, this doesn't rely on terrible family drama to entertain.It was just fascinating to get a glimpse into a differentworld than mine. I hadbegun this book on CD earlier this year, but had to return it before finishing. I took it with me to Puerto Rico, thinking I would find the spot where I left off and go from there. I ended up re-reading the entire book. Wells is that good a writer and the story is so interesting. Her life and that of her mother is so different from mine. Unlike a lot of memoir, this doesn't rely on terrible family drama to entertain.It was just fascinating to get a glimpse into a differentworld than mine.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jean

    This brilliant and clever memoir vividly details the life of the author within the parameters of her mother's and stepfather's lives. She lived in London in her younger years and once married, lives in New York City; however, a former peasant farmhouse in southern France becomes the cornerstone of the family throughout the years. I became absorbed with the author's exceedingly personal, flamboyant writing style. This brilliant and clever memoir vividly details the life of the author within the parameters of her mother's and stepfather's lives. She lived in London in her younger years and once married, lives in New York City; however, a former peasant farmhouse in southern France becomes the cornerstone of the family throughout the years. I became absorbed with the author's exceedingly personal, flamboyant writing style.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Casey

    Yet another indulgent quarantine read -- a shallow dive into the uppity world of cross-Atlantic travel, of "run-down," sprawling French villas, Oxford boys with shaggy mops of hair with cigarettes, and many, many not-so-illicit affairs. Oh, and did I mention the food? Bouillabaisse and cigarettes. In other words, a tale of privilege, white comfort, and a kind of premonition for the reckoning that is in store for legacied publications like Bon Appétit and other Condé Nast gigs. Yet another indulgent quarantine read -- a shallow dive into the uppity world of cross-Atlantic travel, of "run-down," sprawling French villas, Oxford boys with shaggy mops of hair with cigarettes, and many, many not-so-illicit affairs. Oh, and did I mention the food? Bouillabaisse and cigarettes. In other words, a tale of privilege, white comfort, and a kind of premonition for the reckoning that is in store for legacied publications like Bon Appétit and other Condé Nast gigs.

  22. 5 out of 5

    S Cearley

    A fine enough book. Like most books of the "buy a house and move to France" genre, anything in the book going on outside of France is boring. In this case, especially New York. The famous author is an inveterate name-dropper (which partly cannot be helped as she grew up among so many rich/famous/etc people), and the book is a bit too long. But it scratches that "picturesque life in the French countryside" itch I so often get. A fine enough book. Like most books of the "buy a house and move to France" genre, anything in the book going on outside of France is boring. In this case, especially New York. The famous author is an inveterate name-dropper (which partly cannot be helped as she grew up among so many rich/famous/etc people), and the book is a bit too long. But it scratches that "picturesque life in the French countryside" itch I so often get.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    Breezy and gossipy with lots of recipes.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jo

    Became repetitive

  25. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    Lots of fun and filled with naughty celebrities, beautiful passages and a fine family tradition.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    A bit of an oddball memoir. This was definitely more of a character driven memoir filled with name dropping of people I didn’t know. So this didn’t fulfill my French setting desires.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)

    4.5 stars

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rose

    A memoir of Dee Wells, a renowned journalist, by her daughter, Gully Wells. Gully makes her irrepressible mother come alive. It is centered around Wells' vacation house in France. Very well done. A memoir of Dee Wells, a renowned journalist, by her daughter, Gully Wells. Gully makes her irrepressible mother come alive. It is centered around Wells' vacation house in France. Very well done.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ted Haussman

    Solid memoir of the author’s mom and their many adventures to a vacation home in Provence. Was a bit slow in the beginning but overall came to enjoy it.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    1.5 read

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