Monday 8 July 2013

As I Am: Françoise Pascal

My Favourite Mauritian

As I Am by Françoise Pascal
Pegasus Elliot Mackenzie 
ISBN: 978-1903490716

So... this is a remarkable book. 

I’ve read a lot of both biographies and autobiographies over the years and there seem to be very different pleasures and rewards associated with this form of writing... it seems to me. On the one hand, for example, a person may not have done very much in their life but a skilled wordsmith on biography duties can use their talent for language and drama to weave a fascinating picture of somebody who just sits around drawing comic strips all day and leads a fairly uneventful life... and make it so interesting you feel compelled to keep reading. In contrast, a person writing their own memoirs can sometimes have little to tell or share with their intended audience and it can all, in some cases, leave you feeling a bit uninspired and flat.

I’m happy to say, though, that Françoise Pascal’s self written (no ghosts here... at least not ghost writers) autobiography is written from the perspective of somebody who has had a very full life and the writer seems to have absolutely no worries about conveying her ups and downs over the years in no uncertain terms.

I first met Françoise earlier in the year, quite by accident in fact, at a Westminster Film Fair (now aggrandized to London Film Memorabilia Convention) where she was signing her book and I went to have a chat and got a signed photograph of her. She’s an absolutely charming lady and as I was talking to her I realised that she was one of those sexual icons of my early youth who I’d never really put  a name to but remembered as “the sexy french girl” from the TV situation comedy Mind Your Language from 1977 and onwards (actually she’s from Mauritius but the sexy part was absolutely true and, I can attest, still is to this day). I would have been 10 at the time that show was on the air and so that kind of makes sense in terms of timing when my hormones were getting a little more antsy than usual.

She’d actually slipped out of my memory for all these years but I had recently seen her in a movie by one of my favourite genre directors Jean Rollin (called The Iron Rose and reviewed here). I found the lady so approachable, chatty and downright charming that, when she was in attendance at a recent screening of another movie she appeared in (Burke and Hare... reviewed here) I went along to the event specifically so I could meet Françoise again and ask her to sign a copy of her autobiography for me. Again, it was an absolute pleasure meeting her and the time had finally come to read her book.

Well, as I said before... Françoise Pascal has led a very full life.

Some people tend to hold back a bit when writing their memoirs and concentrate on the more positive aspects of their life or, at least, the parts of their life they think their fan base want to hear about. However, it soon became very apparent, even from her accounts of her early life on the island of Mauritius, that there was going to be no holding back where Ms. Pascal is concerned. This book is very much a book about the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth as far as this writer is concerned and while there are some really nice moments and highs in the book, there are also very many terrible low points in her life that most people, I think, would have been less than willing to share... especially in an official autobiography. But this is the absolute correct course to take and her life is presented with no extra frills or polish and, as I’m sure you’ll realise, this makes the book even more compelling and un-put-down-able. 

Ms. Pascal has met a lot of people, from celebrities to princes and right back down to, well, the absolute worst people you would ever want to meet on a dark night... but I don’t want to spoil it for you. She’s had untold experiences which she breezily lays out for you in her book and has survived fires, heartbreak and long term relationships which have tested her spirit but never, it seems to me, broken it.

I was personally surprised when learning of the actions and attitudes of one of my favourite genre actors in regards to the long and stormy relationship he had with Ms. Pascal and it was quite a revelation to me (and no, I’m not going to name him here... buy the book). I know I shouldn’t make the mistake of equating actors and actresses with the roles they play on stage or screen but it’s certainly given me pause for thought and I won’t quite watch his films with the same admiration I did before, I think.

Of course, the author tells her story just as she would chat to you in real life (which is why As I Am is such a good title for the book) and the whole reading experience is completely compelling, compulsive and, despite some of the events depicted, hugely entertaining. The structure of the events occasionally folds back in on itself in some cases when a particularly interesting point is explored in more detail and the occasional use of foreshadowing events in a future chapter is used but it doesn’t take long for the “narrative strands” to right thermselves and steer back to a chronological course when this does happen and the decision to explore those deviations results in a richer reading experience and certainly helps to clarify things later on when they turn up as main points in the text.

My only minor criticism would be that I would like to have seen... not more pictures exactly, but certainly the photographs which were chosen could have been presented in a better light and captioned so you know where you stand with them in regards to relating them back to the author’s personal history. I’m guessing this was a cost issue in terms of the publishers not wanting to go in that direction but I think it would have been worth doing especially since... well... well presented pictures of the gorgeous lady in question is always something we could do with more of. 

At the end of the day, though, it’s not about the illustrations and Ms. Pascal’s words paint a truly interesting picture of her life and certainly mark this book out as one of the more vital autobiographies of recent years. Even if you are not that familiar with the actress yourself, this book is worth seeking out because she has met so many people and done so much and it’s certainly a nice timepiece of everything an autobiography can be in this day and age. Definitely pick this up if you are into reading about a strong woman and the life she has truly lived to the full. 

Francois Pascal’s website, where you can buy this book, is here... 

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