Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

A Year in Provence has become one of those "new classics." I feel like I already should have read this book. And, as a French historian that I "should" like it. Honestly, I'm torn. I'm glad that I read this; I feel like now I can check it off my imaginary list of books to read before I die. But, I'm not sure that I feel much more enlightened or better off for having read it.
Peter Mayle and his wife left England, bought a house in Provence, and moved their permanently. Mayle's book is a one-year diary of their first year in the house and country. The man has way too much money. In the course of the book he installs a swimming pool (or maybe they paid to have it installed before they arrived), puts brand-new central heating in the entire house, rips out and installs a brand-new kitchen, buys copious cases or wine, cases of olive oil, and eats out on a daily basis. These anecdotes make up the body of the book, but they start to sound like bragging - look how much I have to make my like utopian.
The descriptions of the French are very amusing. While the characters are obviously stereotyped, there are many descriptions that are spot-on from my much more limited experience in France. As a francophile, I did enjoy reading Mayle's witty banter with the local characters in his neighborhood. It made me long to return to France.
Finally, this book will make you hungry! Every few pages Mayle describes in great detail the new and amazing meal that he and his wife have discovered. From truffles to rabbit to bread rubbed with tomatoes and dripped in single-pressed olive oil, his meals made my mouth water - yet another reason I want to return to France.
Oh, and one last side note: if you don't speak French, be cautious. Mayle is haphazard in his translations of the local people. Sometimes he immediately uses English, sometimes the words are recognizable from the context of the story, but there are a number of occasions when it is necessary to either understand the French or be willing to skim and not figure out fully the intricacies of the story. Were it any other language but French - which I do happen to read - I would find that trait really pretentious.

1 comment:

Shannon said...

You know, I felt the same way about "A Year in Provence" when I read it years ago while living in Germany. I even bought the second book in the series, but haven't ever been able to bring myself to read it!