Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Toujours Provence by Peter Mayle

Everyone loves Peter Mayle. He gets lauded by editors, quoted by Francophiles, recognized by the Brits. Except me. This is the second one of his books that I have finished and the second one that I haven't liked. However, after more thought on the subject, I am beginning to wonder if it is the entire genre of travel writing that I don't like as opposed to just a particular disinclination for Mayle. After all, the genre advocates humorously satirizing an entire population based on one person's personal experience with a limited part of the given population. I don't like stereotypes, especially about a place that I love. And to me, that's what Mayle's book are. Stereotypes based on his individual experience.
There were amusing and unforseen moments in Mayle's book. Again, his story revolved largely around food. One particular incident had him eating a hefty meal at a truck stop. Obviously there are people who drive trucks in France just like in the US, but to be honest the concept of all you can eat truck greasy stops utilized by heavy set rough men seems particularly American. So it was intriguing to hear about a French truck stop. The men seemed like an equivalent to the Americans but, as per Mayle's point, the food was distinctly better.
Knowing from A Year in Provence that Mayle and his wife had left their jobs and life behind in England to move to France, there is a sense that he searches out unique endeavors so that he has something to write about to make money and continue the lifestyle that he has in France. Therefore, I have to wonder how "typical" his experiences are. Would anyone besides Mayle life the type of life that he describes?
The book was a quick read. You will learn a bit about Provence. But, it still resides in stereotypes and the self-congratulatory nature of Mayle. If you haven't chosen to leave behind "society" and join the laid back world of Provence France then you obviously have made a mistake.

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