Eighteen months ago Catherine Sanderson, a Yorkshire-born thirtysomething secretary, was living in Paris writing a blog, under the pseudonym Petite Anglaise, that 3,000 people logged on to read every day. She had an affair with a fan and blogged about it. She left her long-term French boyfriend Mr Frog and blogged about it. She was sacked from her job because of the blog (now taking 30,000 hits an hour) and was followed around by journalists and publishers until she wrote this memoir. Which has no blogging in it.
As Petite Anglaise contains only four discrete extracts from Sanderson's original blog, it comes over like a biography written by someone not granted permission to quote from the subject's actual estate - someone who looked at a few photos and spoke to the housekeeper before the incident with the rifle. The book feels bizarrely remote. Mr Frog, for example, is a complete mystery. Even before Catherine's affair, he vomits with anxiety every morning, has never in their decade-long relationship let a tear fall in front of his girl ("Was I about to see him cry for the very first time, I wondered, curious to hear what noise he would make, if he did") and only eats cold meat set out on pieces of paper around him while lying prone on the sofa. On the upside, he once called the pregnant Catherine "mon écrin" - my jewellery case - which makes you rather dig his style.
Sanderson ditches Mr Frog for a fan of her blog, an Englishman called James, who in bed says things like: "I want to build you a house with my bare hands and carry you over the threshold." Out of bed he says, "You've got a lot on your plate," and hurries back to his studio in Normandy. Catherine complains about James's fugwash jeans and lack of affection for her and Mr Frog's infant daughter Tadpole, but any teeming rants are drowned out by the sound of Sanderson climbing into her Romantic Novelist suit and doing the zip up.
And Jeez, the folderol. This is a world where trays are "plonked", clothes are "thrown" on, cars "screech" to a standstill, folding high chairs are "snapped", cushions are "plumped", briefcases are "flung down", phones "vibrate energetically" and "tight balls of dread" form in the heroine's stomach; and on the final page she has a "sudden blinding flash of clarity" and understands that her future is not so bleak after all, allowing her to exit with a curtsy. Petite Anglaise feels like the first volume in a three-book deal, not something true that cuts through the guts from a girl with an ego pounding enough to break up her family in favour of a groupie and have a thousand strangers logging on to gobble her every juicy word while she does it.
Sanderson mentions that she once blogged "about seeing someone in the Métro kissing his girlfriend's hand as she gripped the pole near the doors and then realising he'd singled out the wrong hand . . ." That's more like it. And when she rejoices that after an afternoon in bed with James her body no longer feels like "an envelope I barely notice". Or marvels that, when taking down a letter dictated by her boss asking for documents to be signed and returned "in the usual" way, she typed "in the sensual".
Aw, Catherine, this is the girl we want to hang out with! The disturbo who rides the Métro with tears spurting out of her eyes listening to Gorecki by Lamb on her Walkman ("This could be heaven right here on earth"). The bulldozer who describes Mr Frog (the man to whom the book is dedicated!) as being "like my most favourite, most comfortable flat shoes" and yet who sits in bars on dates "keeping my body in check" with sexual desire, desperate to crack and dissolve. The dork who went to bed with the human turnip. The princess who responds to being dumped by said turnip - the dreaded James - by rolling around on the bed in pain for a bit, getting up, shuffling zombiewise to the computer, logging on, blogging her head off ("I am a rudderless boat turning in dizzy, uncomprehending circles"), and then sulkily disabling the function that allows her fans to respond and taking to her bed once more. We don't want Sanderson the writer, the sober creature mindful of the icebergian continents of plot and shape, continuity and career, thumping out 30 years of acceptably readable product. What a crock. We want the nutter. We want the blogger.
Antonia Quirke is the author of "Madame Depardieu and the Beautiful Strangers", published by HarperPerennial