This book was published in 1989 and I first heard about it a few years after that. It was made famous by the television film starring John Thaw and Lindsay Duncan. I’d never quite got around to reading it until starting my recent French project, all these years later. I think it was so well known that instead of considering it to be a classic, I’d written it off as a cliché and therefore wasn’t very interested.
What a mistake! This is a beautiful book, full of wry observation and dry humour. Its chapters are set out by the months of the year and detail life in Provence accordingly. The character sketches of the people living in the area are bought vividly to life: I felt the frustrations caused by the builders leaving the restoration job half done and the many and various amusing idiosyncrasies of the local farming community. The passages describing buying, preparing or consuming different foods and drink, all major interests of the French, led me almost to imagine the meal in front of me. I enjoyed reading how the postman visited around Christmas time, ostensibly to hand deliver the Post Office’s annual calendar. It quickly becomes apparent that he’s waiting for his Christmas tip and the calendar is just a way for the postman to present himself at the front door without explicitly stating his intentions. This is quickly followed by the local Fire Department and then the Sanitation Department, both using the same tactic. Glasses of pastis are involved in these and almost every other transaction.
This is another book full of examples of the differences between English and French culture, the acceptable and unacceptable ways of negotiating life within a new community. This book would suggest that Peter Mayle had an easier time achieving that than did Sarah Turnbull (her book is the subject of a previous post), and I’m not sure if that is because he is male or because he chose to live in a very rural area, while she chose Paris. Maybe it’s a little bit of both or something else entirely.
I have put the film on my request list from LoveFilm. I usually find the book is better than the film, but I’m looking forward to seeing it in the next couple of weeks.