So you are about to set off on the trip of a lifetime to one of the most-loved countries in the world — France! You have been practicing your ‘bonjours‘ and your ‘mercis‘, and studying maps of Paris to work out how to get around, but there is one more thing you can do to make sure your trip is extra special. And that is to immerse yourself in French life by reading some books set in France.
Reading novels set in Paris or the French countryside will give you an insight into the country which is impossible to get from the guide books. As the characters walk along the Seine or drink their coffee at a table on the Parisian pavement, it will fill you with anticipation to do the same — making the experience so much sweeter when you finally get to do it yourself. If the novel is set in the past, you will have more appreciation for France’s history, bringing many of the places and old buildings alive when you visit them on your trip. And if the novel is set in the present day, there’s nothing more fun than trying to find the streets, bars and restaurants that might be mentioned in the story.
So what books should you read? Here is a selection of five novels which do a great job in bringing France to life, even before you set foot on that plane.
‘Foreign Tongue’ by Vanina Marsot
Nursing a broken heart, Anna moves to Paris from Los Angeles. She begins working as the translator of a cryptic erotic novel and of course, finds herself some romance. The book is a love-letter to the city, with plenty of wanderings through the streets as well as descriptions of French life, food and cafes.
‘The Coral Thief’ by Rebecca Stott
History, mystery, romance and intrigue intertwine in this novel set in post-Napoleonic Paris. It is 1815 and a young Englishman travels to Paris to take up a position at the renowned Jardin des Plantes. But when the collection of rare coral specimens he is carrying is stolen by a beautiful woman, he is drawn into a plot involving revolutionaries, spies and the intelligentsia. Victorian Paris comes alive in this novel, which will surely enhance any present day visit to the Jardin des Plantes, France’s main botanical garden.
‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’ by Susan Vreeland
Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s ‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’ is a famous painting depicting a group of Parisians enjoying lunch on the terrace of a restaurant on the Seine. In this novel Vreeland tells the story of those in the painting and how they came to be there. It is a glorious look at Paris at the time of the Impressionists, and you can still eat at the restaurant itself today.
‘Five Quarters of the Orange’ by Joanne Harris
Now we move out of Paris and into the Loire Valley with this novel by Harris that takes us to a village occupied by the Germans in WWII. The book moves between WWII and the present day, giving us an insight into the long-term effects the Nazi occupation had on the French people. And as it is a book by Joanne Harris, there is a of course lots of time spent exploring French food!
‘The Matchmaker of Perigord’ by Julia Stuart
We finish up with something fun and quirky, in a fictional village in France’s south-west. Amour-Sur-Belle might not be a real place, but it gives a taste of some of the declining villages of rural France. Here, the town barber decides to reinvent himself as a match-maker, quite a task when there are only 33 residents to match up. Filled with delightful characters and semi-ridiculous situations, this novel should just leave you giggling and enjoying the French temperament.