Quick Review: France, the Soul of a Journey by R.J. O'Donnell

Four Irish friends crossed the English Channel to disembark on the port of Calais. From there, they made a delightful curving line on the map visiting attractive towns of the French countryside, sometimes taking the expressway sometimes the long winding back roads. Written by one of them, France, the Soul of a Journey draws not only the impressions of new places and the foibles of travelling in groups but the in depth history and myths of each landmark and figure, giving readers the reflecting views of both the past and the present.

Often, I would read of travels to France by landing on a plane or alighting on a train but this is probably a first that I read about travelling by car and touring spots along the way. It would have been more enjoyable if I had a map of France tacked in front of me while reading for it’d be easier to follow their course.

This was a fun and insightful read, without the typical drone of endless descriptions of the scenery. Instead it was filled with banters among friends, philosophical musings, and thoughtful observations on fellow travelers, cultural and historical anecdotes. O’Donnell’s account focuses more on the effect of the journey into their psyches and how each personality fits into the dynamics of travelling. It is perhaps worth noting that O’Donnell captured it best in her title when I thought of how to describe this book.


France, the Soul of a Journey is a travel memoir that really gets into the veins of France’s lush ambience. R J ODonnell recounts a holiday there with three travelling companions, proving with humour and literary flourish why France is the most visited country in the world. From the chain of spires in medieval Normandy, south to the Loire Valley where Renaissance France and the ideas of the great civilisation first began, the mood is laden with what makes France so loved.

The French themselves give the tantalising name la France profonde to the deep countryside where traces of traditional farming still linger and where ethereal France is at its most potent. As rolling hills, buzzing markets and local lore reveal themselves, the passing tourist too gets caught up in that rare love the French have for the soil.

The travellers share great moments: at a church concert, sampling the local cuisine or seizing a moment of nostalgia in a salon de thé. Anecdotes of the people met along the way enliven the journey with passing humour, while conversational tones of friendship and fun are never far off. Most of all, travelling in a group calls for the distilling of differences into that holiday essential called compromise.

While this book carries the substance of careful research, facts do not weigh down the narrative but are presented in an engaging style. France’s history, myths and legends weave subtly into the story and historical figures are taken off textbook pedestals and introduced in a light and personalised way.

France, the Soul of a Journey is a fascinating read not just to potential visitors to the country, but to those interested in a novel-style account of a holiday with some history and culture thrown in.

Title: France, the Soul of a Journey
Author: R.J. O'Donnell
Genre: Travel, Memoir
Published: September 2014
Publisher: Troubadour Publishing Ltd.
Rating: ♨♨♨ (3 cups - A combination of travel, personal and historical narrative.)