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The House in France
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The House in France

3.6 6
by Gully Wells

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
While the title of Wells's memoir suggests an homage to the country, the debut book by the features editor of Condé Nast Traveler is an engaging tribute to her mother, journalist Dee Wells, and her own peripatetic and privileged lifestyle as she was raised by London insiders (including her stepfather, philosopher A.J. "Freddie" Ayer) during the turbulent 1960s. Dee Wells bought "La Migou" in the south of France in 1962, and for Wells all roads lead back to her mother's summer cottage, which saw her family through a number of boyfriends, affairs, children, and deaths. Wells does an excellent job with her portrayal of her mother as a force to be reckoned with, and, despite her flaws, says she was "a mother who was more fun than anybody else on earth." Those familiar with the writings of Martin Amis, Harry Crosby, and Hugh Gaitskill will be pleased with this walk down memory lane. (June)
Library Journal
In spite of the title, this first book by Wells (features editor, Condé Nast Traveler) is not another memoir about one person's recent summers in France, but a writer's reminiscences of decades ago—spent mostly in London—with a month spent every summer in France. From 1962, when she was 11 years old, into her adulthood, Wells annually spent summers in Le Beausset, France, in a house owned by her mother, Dee Wells, an American journalist, writer, and socialite; and her stepfather, British philosopher A.J. "Freddie" Ayer. Readers might not be familiar with Dee Wells and Ayer, but they'll be able to place one of Gully's first boyfriends, Martin Amis, and appreciate many cameos—e.g., Bobby Kennedy, William F. Buckley Jr., Claude Lévi-Strauss, Claus Von Bulow—who demonstrate the milieu in which the Wells/Ayer family moved. Gully describes her coming-of-age and her family, friends, and lovers honestly and entertainingly, with plenty of gossipy details. VERDICT Readers hoping for A Year in Provence will be disappointed, but if they persevere, they'll be pleased with this light, engaging literary memoir.—Heidi Senior, Univ. of Portland Lib., OR
Kirkus Reviews

Memoir of the author's mother and stepfather and the luminous social and intellectual circles in which they moved.

Remembering her mother, American journalist Dee Wells, and stepfather, Oxford philosopher A.J. Ayer, Condé Nast Traveler features editor Wells flits from decade to decade and celebrity to celebrity without too great a concern for chronology. Dee Wells and Ayer were two of the original 20th-century bohemians/hippies/free spirits. Dee in particular was terribly gratified when the '60s finally caught up with their lifestyle. In her debut memoir, the author chronicles the many relationships—social and (mostly) sexual—of their set; the anecdotes are remarkable for their vivid attention to detail. All the tangential lives came together at La Migoua, the eponymous home which absorbed the characteristics of any and all who were welcomed there; the house reflected the spirit of Dee and her nonconformist outlook on life. The stories of Wells' mother and Ayer are a delight to read and revealing when dealing with the captivating personalities of their generation, which included, among many others, Christopher Hitchens, Alan Bennett, Bertrand Russell, Iris Murdoch and Martin Amis. However, the author's tendency to dwell on her own tiresome, personal tales, such as her quest to give up her virginity, slow the narrative and detract from the far more interesting story of Wells' parents and their friends.

Too much teenage angst and not enough of the vibrant intellectual society that Wells illuminates in many of the chapters.

Chris Bohjalian
…delightful…What makes [Wells's] memoir so distinct is the combination of her voice—erudite, wry and very funny—and the way her parents' celebrity worlds influenced her childhood.
—The Washington Post

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
9.26(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.16(d)

Meet 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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The House in France 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
SuzeJones58 More than 1 year ago
My reaction... Phenomenally good read. I was extraordinarily impressed by the lives led by the subjects of this book. I'd definitely recommend buying this book. Only shortcoming is I feel a little short-changed on personal details of Gully's life. She mentions in her Thank You's that she was glad for editor-readers who kept her from revealing the most embarrassing parts. What a tease! Do tell us more!
catwak More than 1 year ago
Ms. Wells' stepfather, a great admirer of Jeremy Bentham, shared Bentham's belief in "felicific calculus," which she characterizes as allowing "you to do all the things that made you happy, as long as you didn't hurt anyone else." This memoir is a long love letter to people who embraced that principle with enthusiasm and to the house where they spent their summers for some 40 years. Ms. Wells rightly points their foibles and the hurt they sometimes caused, but she is unfailingly kind. And she writes like Nancy Mitford reincarnated -- which I intend as a huge compliment.
DrewMAW More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book from beginning to end. Very real.
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