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Taking French Leave

Books: Briefs



By Miles Morland

Random House x 238pp x $21

Ever dream about throwing over the old life and trying something entirely different? Miles Morland, former head of First Boston's London office, did just that when, to the surprise of his superiors in New York, he abruptly quit in 1989. Friends and colleagues were even more astonished by what Morland and his French-born wife, Guislaine, did next: To escape their pressured existence, they hiked across France at the foot of the Pyrenees, from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.

Morland crafts an enjoyable, often hilarious travelogue out of the previously sedentary fortysomething couple's 350-mile trek. Its title aside, Miles Away suffers from little of the cuteness that afflicts the raft of Franceploitation books and articles that have appeared since Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence became a long-running best-seller. Morland intersperses episodes from the monthlong walk with flashbacks from his frantic career "shouting down the phone" in brokerage houses and from his often-tempestuous marriage. (He and Guislaine had divorced but remarried shortly before starting their walk.)

Morland has an eye for detail and a way with anecdotes, so his account of the trip alone is well worth the book's price. There are plenty of the usual hikers' adventures: inedible food, attacks by dogs and even a swan, lamentably inaccurate maps, and run-ins with surly hotel personnel. But what gives the book resonance is the way the couple quietly rebuild their relationship, as Morland learns to keep his domineering personality in check and begins to see his gutsy wife with fresh eyes. Miles and Guislaine, both now writers living on a houseboat in London, emerge as charming and likable companions. That makes sharing their journey--across France and to a new life--a pleasure.THANE PETERSON

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