Take yourself off to the waterways of France…a book which is NOT set in Paris!

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

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Sanary says that you have to travel south by water to find answers to your dreams. He says too that you find yourself again there, but only if you get lost on the way – completely lost. Through love. Through longing. Through fear. Down south they listen to the sea in order to understand that laughing and crying sound the same, and that the soul sometimes needs to cry to be happy. ” (p79 – The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George)

Books about Paris are a dime a dozen. With absolutely no facts or figures at my fingertips – other than referring to the plethora of Paris-based flights-of-fancy listed on Packabook – I’d have to say that Paris might just be the number one location for anyone looking to write novels about ‘exotic’ locations. And hey – I’m not knocking it. I’m as big a sucker for a book about Paris as the next Packabooker. You can find more than 100 of them here if you are so inclined.

But I’m delighted to say, that despite its title, The Little Paris Bookshop is not about Paris. No Siree – I’d like to suggest it’s about something even better. It’s about a journey in a barge along the waterways of France FROM Paris all the way down to a coastal utopia in Provence.  And that my dear friends, is just about my idea of literary paradise. Oh – and there’s the added bonus that the barge is full of books. Sigh…..

Nina George’s novel takes us to so many places I’m itching to visit, that I’d need a book of my own to write about them all, so I will concentrate on a few of my favourites. This is just a taster, though. You’ll need to read the novel yourself to find out all the other fantabulous potential holiday destinations.

To set the scene – a little about the story…

Jean Perdu is a sad man. For 21 years he’s been wrapping his broken heart up in tissue paper after the love of his life walked out the door of his Paris apartment. And while he makes lots of other people happy with his sensitive and insightful book recommendations (he owns Lulu, a barge bookstore on the River Seine), he can hardly be said to be living anything near a full life. But then a potential love interest appears on the horizon and he receives some news which forces him to question everything he has known about the past. So he decides to unmoor himself from the present, and take himself, Lulu, and two semi-resident cats on a long journey.

The rest you will discover as Jean makes his meandering journey south, picking up some highly entertaining strays along the way, all the while pondering the important questions of life and love. There’s also a few giggles to stop it all getting TOO heavy. When people talk about novels which ‘warm the cockles of your heart’, trust me, this is one. Suitably quirky, well-developed characters, gentle humour, a warm embrace – this book has all of it. And then of course, there are the divine destinations…

Cuisery (a book town on the river Seille in Burgundy)

Oh, Cuisery! An avid reader will lose his heart here. The whole village is crazy about books – or crazy period – but that’s not unusual. Virtually every shop is a bookstore, a printer’s, a bookbinder’s, a publisher’s, and many of the houses are artists’ workshops. The place is buzzing  with creativity and imagination.” (p193)

CuiseryThe book town of Cuisery – Image courtesy of Village du Livre de Cuisery  

I thought this must have been a made up place, but it’s not. There really is a ‘town of books’ called Cuisery.

On the first Sunday of each month there is a book market, and the rest of the time, the town is filled with shops renowned for their rare book collections, comics, illuminated manuscripts and other such collectables. The people of Cuisery all get into short story competitions, poetry readings and literary meetings, and in the summer you can even visit a workshop where they print on a 15th century Gutenberg Press.

It seems that in the 1990s Cuisery had a chronic shop closure problem and so the locals decided to offer the empty stores to book sellers and book craftspeople. The result is this tempting little book village. They also do some heavy trade in vinyl records and have lots of summer concerts – just in case you are dragging along a partner who is more a music person than a book person (I speak from experience!) Here’s the town Facebook Page so you can keep up with all their bookish news.

Bonnieux (paradise in Provence)

“‘Bonnieux rises in a stack between the Grand Luberon and the Petit Luberon. Like a five-layered cake,’ Manon had told Perdu. ‘At the very top, the old church and the hundred-year old cedars and the most scenic cemetery in the Luberon. Down at the bottom, the wine-growers, the fruit farmers and the holiday homes. And between them three layers of houses and restaurants. All connected by steep paths and stairs, which explains why all the village girls have such gorgeous strong calves.’ She had shown Jean hers, and he had kissed them.” (p225)

BonnieuxBonnieux – Image courtesy of decar66 via Flickr Creative Commons

Ah Bonnieux sounds idyllic; orchards, vineyards, 16th century houses and stunning views – I might even be tempted to bypass my low-carb diet and drop in to the town’s bakery museum when I visit.

Bonnieux is perhaps one of those places you would never come across if it wasn’t for a novel like The Little Paris Bookshop. And George makes it sounds like an ideal base for your next Provence adventure. You can even eat at the actual restaurant visited by Jean Perdu which “had a wonderful view of the valley and of a red-and-gold sunset that gave way to a clear night sky strewn with stars glistening like ice.” (p270). At time of writing Un p’tit Coin de Cuisine is Trip Advisor’s fifth favourite restaurant in Bonnieux and attracts some rave reviews, though some found the service a little slow. (But hey, who wants to rush things when you are in The Luberon!)

And when I happened across this video about Bonnieux – I’m afraid I was totally hooked. Bonnieux – here I come! Have you ever seen such a happy town?


Sanary-Sur-Mer (a literary refuge by the sea)

This charming old seafarers’ village: daylight made the colors blossom: by night it was lit by the wide starry sky, and in the evening by the soft rosy light of old-fashioned lanterns. Over there the market with its yellow-and-red awnings under lush plane trees. Around them, soothed by the sun and the sea, people reclined dreamily in their chairs at countless tables in old bars and new cafés.” (p237)

Sanary-sur-MerThe harbour at Sanary-Sur-Mer – Image courtesy of Tobi 87 via Wikimedia Commons

But if I had to pick just one place to visit from this novel, I think it might just be Sanary-Sur-Mer. What a gorgeous place George has introduced us to with this Provencal port town; my only concern being that every man and his poodle is going to want to go there after reading this book!

Not only does Sanary have 280 days of sunshine each year and enticing beaches and vineyards just a hop, skip and jump away, it also has important literary associations.

During the 1930s, German and Austrian writers, artists and intellectuals fleeing the Nazis took refuge in Sanary. Writers such as Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht and Stefan Zweig were among them, while English authors including Aldous Huxley and D.H.Lawrence also based themselves along Sanary’s welcoming shores. But once World War Two was declared in 1939, the exiles were considered enemy aliens, many sent to internment camps. Later some ended up in Nazi concentration camps.   

On your own visit to Sanary you can spend your days doing as the exiles did, drinking coffee in the cafes on the harbour. Or you could  join a walking tour which takes you to some of the places the writers liked to hang out. You can even rest your head in the hotel that many of them stayed in before discovering their own places to rent. (It’s worth taking advice from TripAdvisor though, on which rooms to ask for).

This New York Times article has more info on Sanary’s role as a literary haven, while this blog post  and this article will give you even further inspiration to visit.

You will  of course need another couple of books to take with you. German-born English writer Sybille Bedford’s semi-autobiographical novel Jigsaw is part set in Sanary, while her memoir Quicksands includes further details of her time living there in the 1930s.

But I want to go on a barge!

The river wound its way in stately loops through woods and parks. The banks were lined with grand, rambling grounds surrounding houses that hinted at old money and family secrets.” (p87)

The_Sundeck_On_L'art_de_Vivre_Hotel_BargeThe Barge L’Art de Vivre – Image courtesy of Oliver Barge via Wikimedia Commons

I know, it just doesn’t seem right to visit these places in a car when the French waterways have been so temptingly revealed to us by Jean Perdu and his quirky companions. Travelling by barge allows you to meander your way through riverside back yards with a glass of wine in your hand and a straw hat perched prettily on your head rather than pelt down toll-ridden (though exceptionally well-maintained) French highways.

Fortunately there are many barges just ripe for the renting. I suspect finding a company which will follows Perdu’s exact journey might be a bit of a challenge, but you can certainly do some of your favourite parts of it. This one for example, is in Burgundy and goes to Cuisery, or you could speak to The Barge Lady who can apparently help you negotiate the multitude of barging options available so you find your ideal journey. If you come across one that follows the trail of the novel – please do let me know – how fantastic would that be?

Unfortunately I haven’t come across a floating hotel BOOK barge yet – but I think it is a business opportunity just waiting to happen! Anyone up for it?

What can I tell you? I loved this book. I loved the characters, the pace, the scenery – all of it. My only disappointment is that it was written by a woman. The male characters are so loveable that I want to believe there are male writers out there who could create them. Not this time, unfortunately. But don’t let this put you off. If you believe in love and whimsy, in friendship and new beginnings, in taking the time to breath and ingest the world around you – or even if you just enjoy the south of France – then I think you will relish it as well. Yes, it will tug on your heartstrings, yes, you will feel things all wrap up too nicely, yes, you have to have half a belief in romance and sweetness and light – but sometimes, that is exactly what I want from a novel, and The Little Paris Bookshop provides it.

Suzi

P.S. This book was gifted to me by the wonderful Poppy at Little,Brown so that I could read and review it for you. I think you know me well enough to understand this would not influence my views on the book – if anything it generally makes me a little tougher! Even if Poppy is obviously a very nice person…

Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk)

A grim and smelly past revealed by this book set in Paris

Take yourself to the catacombs beneath the French capital with Andrew Miller’s Pure

Pure by Andrew Miller

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If your idea of Paris is of beauty and fashion, delightful meals and romantic walks along the Seine, then I’m afraid you are in for something different with Andrew Miller’s novel Pure.

It is the 18th century, and the oldest cemetery in Paris is overflowing.

Holy Innocents' Cemetery 1550

 Theodor Josef Hubert Hoffbauer’s engraving depicting the  Holy Innocents’ cemetery around 1550 – Image courtesy of  Jebulon via Wikimedia Commons

The Holy Innocents’ cemetery may have started out as your average church burial ground, but now it is a nightmare, with hundreds of thousands of bodies having been piled on top of each other for generations. And despite the bones being removed to be put in ‘charniers’, there is still insufficient room for the endless supply of new corpses. The nearby residents have had enough and are complaining that their water is being poisoned by the rotting flesh and the stench has become unbearable, so the authorities decide something has to be done. The bodies must be removed. And this is where our novel begins.

Charnier at Holy Innocents Cemetery
Charniers at the Holy Innocents’ Cemetery in Paris – Image via Wikimedia Commons

A young engineer named Jean-Baptiste is hired by the authorities to remove the corpses, an immensely difficult feat requiring all his skills. But there’s an added challenge beyond the engineering concerns; our young hero has been told he must do the job in secret.

What follows as poor old Jean-Baptiste tries to deal with this grizzly nightmare is fabulous. I relished this book – and if you are someone who enjoyed the novel Perfume, or The Shadow of the Wind, then I think you’ll love this one as well. There are some terrific characters, especially from within the nearby family that Jean-Baptiste lodges with, as well as amongst those who befriend him and try to help him with the project. And fortunately there’s also a little romance for our earnest young engineer.

Of course you have to be up for being a bit grossed out from time to time – there’s no protecting of your sensibilities here. This is a cemetery after all….

From cemetery to city square

But what if you were visiting Paris today and you wanted to see the cemetery for yourself? Well, I have to tell you, there’s not much sign of it these days. It seems Jean-Baptiste did his job very well.

The cemetery is now a small square surrounded by restaurants and fast food outlets, BUT in the middle of the square you can see this fountain.

Fountain of the Innocents
Fountain of the Innocents – Paris. Image courtesy of Moonik via Wikimedia Commons

It is called the Fountain of the Innocents, and it is the oldest monumental fountain in Paris, built around 1550. It was once placed against our cemetery wall – which you can see in this engraving.

Fountain of the Innocents engraving
Engraving of the Fountain of the Innocents – Image courtesy of Siefkin DR via Wikimedia Commons 

When the cemetery closed down, the site was turned into a market square and the fountain was earmarked for destruction.  Fortunately, after some community pressure, it was decided to move the fountain into the square, raise it up on a stone pedestal and have a fourth facade constructed so it could be free-standing.

Fountain of the Innocents painting 1822Painting of Fountain of the Innocents 1822. Image courtesy of Musée Carnavalet via Wikimedia Commons

In 1858 it was moved once again to its present location in the middle of the square, where you can visit it today. You will find it, right in the heart of Paris, near to the shopping precinct of Les Hall and the Pompidou cultural complex.

But what happened to all of those bones?

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After sitting by the fountain for a while, perhaps with a coffee, reading your copy of Pure you can take a 45 minute walk or a 20 minute ride on public transport to the place where all those bones got moved to; the spectacular, and slightly scary, Paris Catacombs.

Paris CatacombsParis Catacombs. Image courtesy of albany_tim via Wikimedia Commons

A labyrinth of tunnels underneath the heart of Paris, the catacombs house the bones of six million Parisians. And the first bones to go in there were the very bones Jean-Baptiste spent hundreds of pages trying to dig up in this novel.

Engraving of the Paris Catacombs 1855Engraving of the Paris Catacombs from 1855 – Image courtesy of Brown University via Wikimedia Commons

The Catacombes are not for the faint-hearted – and nor is this novel really – but they are truly one of the most memorable tourist attractions you will visit in Paris.

And to really appreciate them, I’d certainly give Pure a read before you go!

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Suzi

Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk)

Novel about photographer Robert Capa takes us to Paris

“Amid the several million or so souls that inhabit this city, what a happy accident it is, I consider, what an obliterating coincidence that we have found each other. What have I done to deserve this, to be so singled out?”Seducing Ingrid Bergman p96

Click here if you don’t see the video

I discovered the novel Seducing Ingrid Bergman (which I talk about in the video above)  after reading this article about war photographer Robert Capa. The article included the heartbreaking story of how most of the negatives for the photographs Capa took during the D-Day landings at Normandy in 1944 were destroyed before a single print was made, due to a mistake in the London photo lab of Life Magazine.  I cannot imagine Capa’s  frustration at this after putting his life in danger and witnessing such bloodshed. It makes the few surviving iconic images all the more precious (their appears to be a difference of opinion as to whether there were 10 or 11 of them, depending on where you read about it!)

I wanted to know more about this good looking Hungarian who lived life on the edge, found solace in women and drink and put himself in enormous danger so the world could witness global conflict, only to die after stepping on a land mine in Vietnam at the age of 40.

What a gift then to find a highly-praised novel in which Capa himself is one of the main characters. In Paris for the city’s liberation at the end of World War Two, Capa is at a bit of a loss. What does a war photographer do now that peace has broken out? Capa and his friend, writer Irwin Shaw, find themselves at the Ritz when who should arrive but Ingrid Bergman, the married Swedish-born movie star, who has taken the world by storm with films such as Casablanca and Gaslight.

Capa is smitten immediately and it is not long before he charms his way into Bergman’s affections and the beginning of an intense relationship. It was more than an affair for Bergman, who wanted to marry Capa but…. well, I think I should leave it for you to read the novel to see how it all ended up…you’ll get no spoilers from me!

We see a little of Paris throughout the book, especially as Bergman and Capa take to some famous streets, restaurants and nightclubs for their somewhat clandestine meetings, and it’s great to get a sense of what the city was like during this time of liberation.

“The newspapers are full of the Japanese surrender. V-J Day. People swarm in the streets with renewed fervour, waving flags and handkerchiefs, many clustered around boards where the front pages of the newspapers are displayed. Ingrid is with me on the back of a jeep as I take photographs. We’re driven slowly as part of an improvised victory parade through the wildly celebrating crowds.”– p68

While this is a work of fiction, it is highly researched, and much of it based on autobiographies by both Capa and Bergman. How much of it is “the truth” is always questionable in novels such as this, but it appears to capture enough of the man to help bring his work alive, and if you read it, you will always feel you know a little of the photographer himself whenever you see his images.

This part of Capa’s life is not the only novel in which he features. Susana Fortes’s Waiting for Robert Capa (which I have not yet read) is the story of the complicated relationship between Capa and one of the first female photojournalists to die on the frontline, Gerda Taro. The novel explores their lives and careers as the pair re-invent themselves from young radical Jewish exiles living in Paris by the name of André Friedmann and Gerta Pohorylle to two of the world’s most celebrated war photographers. Changing their names and re-inventing the art of war photography, the two produced some of the most recognised images of the Spanish Civil War. Read more about their relationship here.

There is much more to the Robert Capa story than I have room for here, but if you’d like to know more about his extraordinary life, here are some suggestions.

And as a special treat, there are two films currently in development  about Capa and his life – based on our two novels.

It seems that 100 years after his birth, Capa’s work is still having an impact, while his event-filled life continues to fascinate.

I hope you enjoy the novel and if you are looking for more books set in Paris, you’ll find a huge selection here.

Suzi

Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk)

Immerse Yourself in French Lavender with ‘The Lantern’


I am delighted to introduce you to a new, regular series here on the Packabook blog which, for lack of a wittier title, I am calling ‘What to Read – What to Do’. Sometimes I just like to tell it how it is!

The idea is that I will take one book, give you a brief description, and then suggest one thing you can do related to the novel. The posts will be fairly short and sweet, but hopefully they will provide you with some great travel ideas. Fiction gives us so many amazing opportunities to explore the world, and each of these posts will reveal one more tiny aspect of that wondrous world that we can investigate for ourselves. Now I appreciate that it is unlikely you will be able to just take off and do these things straight away, but how about keeping a record of the ones which appeal to you? That way when you do manage to make that trip to France for example, you’ll know exactly what to read and what to do when you get there. These posts will be ideal to add to your ‘Bucket List’ or ‘Places to Visit’ boards on Pinterest, so feel free to make good use of the ‘Pin It’ button at the top of the post.  (If anyone is not yet on Pinterest and needs an invite, let me know in the comments and I’ll invite you). Now, let’s get started with our premiere edition of…

What to Read – What to Do – France

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THE PLACE: The Luberon, France
WHAT TO READ: The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson
WHAT TO DO:  Immerse yourself in the lavender of Provence….

Books set in France - The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson

“…where lavender rose upon lavender in a hundred shades of mauve, twilight brought a deep, unreal violet to the plateau. One evening in late July, I watched transfixed, as the undulations merged into a mysterious landscape where no boundaries were definable between flower and sky, between falling shadow and the darkening blue.” – The Lantern (p145)

THE BOOK:  Deborah Lawrenson’s The Lantern is described as “a mix between a gothic ghost story and a modern romance” and The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson - Books set in Francethat’s a pretty accurate description of this novel which takes us to the heart of rural France.  When Eve falls for the mysterious Dom, she travels with him to live in a run-down old house in the Luberon, in the middle of Provence. But as the darkness of the winter sets in, Eve becomes suspicious of all around her, especially Dom and the secrets he refuses to share. And on top of that – she’s convinced the house is haunted. There are not a lot of surprises in this novel, which Lawrenson says is inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, but if you are looking for an easy read which makes the most of the sights and sounds of the south of France, then this should do it for you. The writer has based the house on her own run-down property in the area, so her descriptions of the buildings and surrounding area are about as accurate as you could get. She even has pictures and descriptions on her website, to really help you visualise it. In fact her website has a load of information related to the region in which it’s set, so certainly worth a visit before setting off.

Lavender Field - Books set in France - The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson

Image courtesy of nicephore via Wikimedia Commons

WHAT TO DO:  One of the key elements of the novel is lavender. This part of Provence is famous for its lavender fields and production – both small and large scale, and if you are looking for some stunning scenery then you will be sure to find it here.  You can follow one of the ‘routes de la Lavande’, either by car, foot or bicycle, and visit many of the villages mentioned in the novel, immersing yourself in all the sights and smells. Or for something really special you could witness the lavender fields from the air – in a hot air balloon.  While Lawrenson doesn’t tell you exactly where her big old house is located, at one stage she mentions it is in walking distance of Apt, so if you make it to this walled city, you’ll know you are in the heart of the novel. Villages such as Roussillon, Gordes and Bonnieux all get detailed mentions, and you will pass through them yourself as you seek out the area’s lavender trails. A quick look on the internet shows a number of organised tour operators to help you make the most of the region and others suggest itineraries you can follow yourself. To help you put it all into perspective it may also be worth dropping into the Lavender Museum in Coustellet. And while the large scale commercial farms near Sault are impressive, Lawrenson also encourages you to visit one of the smaller distilleries, which will give you a better idea of some of the more traditional production methods mentioned in the novel.

THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND: The lavender fields are in bloom between June and August, and the distilleries are open in July and August, so bear this in mind when arranging your trip. For an absolute highlight, you might want to make sure you are there in mid-July when Apt holds its Lavender Festival.

VIDEO TO WATCH: Hear Deborah Lawrenson speak about the book and some reviewer thoughts in this video.

FURTHER READING:
Blog post and pictures from Deborah Lawrenson as she visits Sault  – “Shops entirely devoted to lavender and sunshine”
Traveler Phoebe Lowe explores the lavender region around Sault and Apt in her blog – “It was crazily beautiful!! Sooooooo nice!!”
Visit2province.com – for lots of information on the lavender fields
The Luberon – a good general site with some stunning photographs

BOOK SOURCE: A review copy of The Lantern was kindly provided by the publisher.

Suzi

P.S. If you have enjoyed this post, then you are sure to enjoy my free online bookclub, in which we are taking a fiction adventure around the world. Read more about it here.

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Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk)

A Pedestrian in Paris – John Baxter shares his Most Beautiful Walk in the World

Books Set in France - The Most Beautiful Walk in the WorldThis is a post for Paris in July, hosted by BookBath and Thyme for Tea

John Baxter’s The Most Beautiful Walk in the World (not yet available direct from Amazon UK, but you can get your pre-order in, or order via other distributors on Amazon) is the kind of book that just makes you want to jump on a plane immediately so you can join him in wandering the streets of Paris. This is a book written by a man who truly loves to understand what he is seeing around him and ponder on how it all fits into the city’s history…and with this book, you will feel the same way.

Baxter is an Australian who has lived in Paris for more than 20 years. One day, in an effort to help out a friend, he found himself conducting a couple of guided ‘literary walks’ for writers visiting the city. It made him realise how limited traditional tours and guide books were, with their inability to allow room for the unexpected. Receiving a great reaction from his first “customers” and some encouragement from a highly entrepreneurial friend, Baxter decided to expand his tour operations…this book tells you that story, and of course, offers some great advice for those wanting to set off on their own literary meander around Paris.

John has been kind enough to answer a few of our questions… (Thanks John!)Books set in France - John Baxter

What kind of a reaction have you had?
The book has been an astonishing success. It has already gone into five printings in less than a month, and reviews have been uniformly enthusiastic. Many people have also emailed me their appreciation. It’s been a welcome surprise.

How do you feel when you see tourists wandering around with cameras and guide book, practically ticking the sights of Paris off a checklist?
It’s better than not “doing” Paris at all, but I’m sorry to see them missing out on so much. At times, I want to grab them and say, “No, stop reading and look! “ An hour sitting in a café can tell you more than the most detailed guide book.

You really make the sixth arrondissement sound like the stuff of dreams, especially for those in love with all things literary, is it really as romantic as it appears?
Even more so! There is hardly a street or square that doesn’t have some literary association. There is a magic to the very stones. They breathe poetry.

If someone was coming to Paris and they only had one day to experience the city, what would you suggest they do?
Breakfast at the Cafe Flore or Deux Magots on Boulevard St Germain, a Metro ride to Montmartre to view the city from the terrace of Sacre Coeur, a sandwich eaten in the Luxembourg Gardens, a visit to the church of St Severin in the Latin Quarter and to the Shakespeare and Company bookshop nearby, a nap back at your hotel, then dinner in a great restaurant, and a walk across Pont Neuf, pausing in the middle to watch the Seine by moonlight. (Of all these experiences, the Seine by moonlight will probably be the one you remember best.)

Books set in France - Seine at nightImage courtesy of Savani1987 via Wikimedia Commons

I normally ask our contributors to recommend somewhere off the beaten track, a hidden gem they can go and visit, but your book is full of them. Can you give us a favourite?
At least once a month, you’ll find me at the flea market at Porte de Vanves that takes place year-round each Saturday and Sunday morning. It’s a cornucopia of treasures that also reveals an enormous amount about the history and culture of France. (Don’t be surprised if you run into Catherine Deneuve. She’s a keen flea-marketeer and a frequent visitor.)

And if a visitor just went to one place to eat, where would you suggest?
The Au Bon St Pourcain on rue Servandoni, next to Saint Sulpice church. A classic one-room restaurant that hasn’t changed in a century.

Your timing for the book is perfect. There seems to be a real Paris fascination at the moment, perhaps helped by Woody Allen’s new movie, ‘Midnight in Paris’…
There are times when Most Beautiful Walk reads like the Book of the Film. But it was pure coincidence. Oddly, Woody is an unwilling visitor to Paris. He doesn’t trust the water, doesn’t like the food, and speaks no French. But he’s as susceptible to its magic as the rest of us.

What do you hope The Most Beautiful Walk in the World leaves people with?
I hope it makes those who have never visited Paris decide to do so, and those who already know the city to return. The city is inexhaustible. There is always more to discover.

Books set in ParisImage by Matism via Wikimedia Commons

This book is not just about Paris though is it? It’s about walking, observing and taking it all in, wherever you are…
It’s about jumping in at the deep end; experiencing life without preconceptions. Life is more enjoyable if one can stop and look. Paris makes that easier, since there’s so much more to see.

Do you still offer guided walks yourself? How can people find you if they are keen to hear your stories in person?
I still do a few tours, but pressure of work has forced me to limit them. Anyone who is interested could email Terrance Gelenter at Paris Through Expatriate Eyes.

Do you have a favourite novel set in Paris?
Le Divorce by Diane Johnson, who’s another long-time expatriate (and neighbour). Despite the title, it’s in English; the witty and observant story of a collision between an American and a French family over marriage, infidelity, sex and a 17th century painting both claim to own. The movie version of a few years back didn’t do it justice.

The Most Beautiful Walk in the World reminds us just how much has happened on the streets of the cities we visit. How often do you fly through a place in a few days, just making sure you see the main sights before moving on? Of course it’s rare to have the luxury of truly exploring the streets as John does, but it is good to be reminded that even if we can’t always see them, the pavements we walk on and the buildings we pass are rich with stories of the past. Next time you are walking the streets of an unfamiliar city, just stop from time to time, take a deep breath and look around, and wonder what ghosts are walking along beside you.

And of course, if you are off to Paris anytime soon….then I highly recommend The Most Beautiful Walk in the World as a companion. If you are looking for a traditional guide book, then this is not for you. But if you are keen to explore the poetry of the streets alongside someone who can whisper stories in your ear – then John Baxter’s book is a fine way to do it.

Suzi

Packabook was kindly provided with a review copy of the book “The Most Beautiful Walk in the World” by the publishers.

Find more books set in France

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Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk)

Books set in France – What the Bloggers Recommend

Shakespeare and Co - Books set in France As you know we love to highlight books set in Paris on this blog, but today we thought we’d find out what some of the wonderful bloggers in France recommend as THEIR favourite reads. These are people who live and breath French life – so when they suggest a good book, we listen!

Now, you would think coming up with a favourite novel would be easy – but not for Doni from Girls Guide to Paris who says she has so many favourites it was almost impossible to choose.

Eventually she settled on The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham. Books set in Paris

“While it doesn’t ooze Paris or France the way some other books may, it is beautifully written and captures a very particular time and a society that largely doesn’t exist anymore. And since reading it, I always feel quite smart when I have a coupe de Champagne at the Café de la Paix near the Opéra Garnier,” Doni says.

Doni couldn’t help also sneaking in a non-fiction book as well — Time Was Soft There by Jeremy Mercer, a book about his bohemian experience living and writing at Doni’s favourite bookshop in the world, Shakespeare and Co.

Shakespeare and Co. is a delicious bookshop – you really don’t want to go to Paris without dropping in!

Firmly aimed at the fairer sex, Girls Guide to Paris showcases all the latest from the French capital. From where to eat, where to shop and what to wear, Doni and her team of female bloggers will have you living the life of a Parisienne in no time!

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Dora Bruder - books set in ParisMartina from Mad About Paris says there is one book you cannot visit Paris without….and that’s Dora Bruder by Patrick Modiano. But she warns you will need to be prepared to enter a world of melancholy.

“Modiano is obsessed with one subject: disappearance,” Martina says.
“In all of his books he’s searching for traces of the past. Not any past, but the time when Paris was under German occupation. All his books are a travel through time. Often the starting point is a small fact, something he found in the archives, in old newspapers, and even old telephone directories.

In this case it was 1988 when Modiano found this announcement in a 1941 newspaper reporting that a 15-year old girl, Dora Bruder, was missing: “oval face, grey-brown eyes, wine-coloured jumper, dark blue skirt and hat, and brown shoes. Contact Monsieur and Madame Bruder, 41, Boulevard Ornano for any relevant information.

For more than a decade Modiano was obsessed with collecting any possible information about Bruder, only to discover she had been deported to Auschwitz. This book is his reconstruction of her life.

For people visiting the France, Dora Bruder is an opportunity to discover and immerse yourself in a Paris which has now disappeared.”

Thanks Martina!

Mad about Paris is not a travel guide and not a city-blog, it’s both of these and much more than this: an online magazine about Paris, the number one tourist destination. The site not only gives you tools and tips for a perfect trip, it also wants to make you dream about Paris, it’s people and it’s stories. It’s for all Paris lovers: a simple way to stay tuned.

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It’s a dark choice as well from Kristin Espinasse from French Word-A-Day.

Perfume: the Story of a Murderer is set in Paris, but also has scenes in Grasse, the perfume capital of France.
Perfume by Patrick Suskind - France books

“The writer, Patrick Suskind, is amazing at description: the scenes of Paris and of Grasse are so vivid. It is a wickedly evil book… but the writing is so engrossing that it is difficult to put down as one follows, with amazement, the megalomaniac main character, who is a scent genius.”

Kristin and I agree you either love or hate Perfume, but there is only one way to find out which category you fall into, and that’s to give it a go!

Kristin Espinasse is the author of  “Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love & Language from the South of France. She began the blog French Word-A-Day in 2002, with the goal of learning how to write…while teaching others how to learn French.

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The Piano Shop on the Left Bank - France Books Richard from Eye Prefer Paris is more your burly non-fiction type, so is passing on the novels and suggesting we read The Piano Shop on the Left Bank by Thaddeus Carhart.

“It’s a memoir about an American man who lived in Paris as a child and learns how to play the piano,” Richard says.
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“He is traumatized by his performance at a recital and vows never to play again. He moves to Paris from the U. S. as a grown man with his wife and young son. On his way to taking his son to school everyday, he stumbles on a piano repair shop and befriends the owner.  What later ensues is him buying a piano and getting in touch again with his passion for the piano and overcoming his childhood fear. There’s a wonderful romanticism about his take on Paris and the Parisians and the story is very moving. Also his description of the Left Bank and his neighbourhood and the interesting & warm people he meets is so enticing that it makes you want to move here. It’s a rich and rewarding true tale and a most inspiring ex-pat memoir.”

Ah – a renewal of passion in Paris – how can we resist!

Eye Prefer Paris is an insiders Paris blog written by Ex-New Yorker Richard Nahem, that posts four times a week with stories and great photos about food, culture, art, pastries & chocolate, shopping, history, and fashion. Richard also leads private insider walking tours of Paris – based on places he writes about on his blog.

This is Paris by Miroslav Sasek - Paris Books

And something quite a bit different from Lindsey of Lost in Cheeseland, whose favourite book set in Paris was actually written for children.  It was published in 1953 and presents a thorough history of the city through vibrant illustrations.

“Miroslav Sasek offers the reader a visual tour of Parisian life – from its monuments, transportation system, and parks to its cafés and evens its animals,” says Lindsey.

This Is Paris is part of a larger collection of “This Is…” city books which includes London, Rome, Venice, New York and San Francisco and although it was written for children, the cultural benefit for adults is just as significant. All of the facts have been updated in recent editions to account for modifications to urban planning and historical sites. Perhaps what is most appealing about the book is how relevant it remains today, vintage aesthetic and all! I offered the book to my young brother this year, it makes a great educational souvenir. “

Lindsey Tramuta is an expat in Paris from Philadelphia and the creator of the blog Lost in Cheeseland – a collection of musings on food, life, love and obstacles in France.

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So there you have it…a few suggestions from the experts. Thanks guys, you have given us some real treats to explore.

So how about you? Why not give yourself a little Paris time….and order yourself a literary trip to the French capital….I think I’m going to start at the top with The Razor’s Edge and work my way down…

And if you’ve read any of these recommendations, we’d love to hear what you think in the comments. Do our bloggers know their stuff?

Suzi

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Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk)

Books set in France – Eight novels that bring French artists to life

In sorting through the books set in France we have on the main site, I couldn’t help but notice how many of those novels were to do with art or artists. It makes sense though – one of the first things to pop into your mind when you think of France (after the Eiffel Tower, champagne and berets of course) is bound to be something to do with art. Maybe the Louvre, or an artist (perhaps with a beret!) painting someone’s portrait in Montmartre, or even Monet’s famous painting of his bridge at Giverny.

So – there’s no point in resisting.

If you are going to Paris there’s a good chance that you are going to come across art in some way or another. So, the best thing to do is to arm yourself with a load of novels that will immerse you in the art world of the Belle Époque (Beautiful Era) and by the time you arrive in Paris you will know more that you could possibly imagine about the art you will see when you get there. You’ll probably know a fair bit about the streets of Montmartre as well!

So here it is.

A list of eight novels set in France about French art and artists

Dancing for DegasDancing for Degas by Kathryn Wagner The story of a young ballerina at Paris’ Opera Ballet modelling for the Impressionist painter Edger Degas.

Claude and Camille Claude and Camille by Stephanie Cowell Fictionalised version of the relationship between artist Claude Monet and his muse Camille.

I am Madame XI am Madame X by Gioia Diliberto When John Singer Sargent’s portrait of socialite Virginie Gautreau was shown in Paris 1884, it caused a scandal.

Sunflowers Sunflowers by Sheramy Bundrick Artist Vincent Van Gogh’s descent into madness through the eyes of the prostitute Rachel.

Cezanne's Quarry by Barbara CorradoCezanne’s Quarry by Barbara Corrado Artist Paul Cezanne is caught up in the mystery surrounding the murder of a mysterious young woman in Aix-en-Provence.

Depths of Glory by Irving Stone Depths of Glory by Irving Stone The story of Camille Pissarro one of the main figures of the Impressionist movement.

Lydia Cassatt Reading The Morning Paper by Harriett Scott Chessman Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriett Scott Chessman The story of Lydia, whose sister Mary was  at the centre of the Impressionist movement in Paris.

Luncheon of the Boating Party Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland Focuses on one of Renoir’s instantly recognizable masterpieces,  and imagines the story arounds its creation.

It’s a delightful mix of novels that blend fact and fiction to make the art and artists of the time come alive, forever changing how you look at their work. And what’s even better is the way the same characters appear in lots of the different books – you will feel like a member of the Impressionist family yourself if you manage to read all of these. I am certainly planning on giving it a good go. Why not join me?

Suzi

P.S. If you’d like to delve beyond the art world, see what other books set in France we have discovered.

Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk)

Books set in France – Now it’s Easier Than Ever to Find Them!

Image by Simona DumitruJust in time for Bastille Day, Packabook is delighted to announce that you can now find books set in France categorised by regions and cities.

To give it a try, visit the France page, look over to the right and you will see that the fiction category has been divided into several places to choose from, such as the Riviera, the Loire Valley and of course Paris.

As you might expect, the vast majority of books are set in Paris – almost 50 so far. There are books in which Paris is almost a character itself, like Foreign Tongue by Vanina Marsot, and there are classics like Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London.

View Paris books

If you are looking for something a little lighter, you could try A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke or Blame it on Paris by Laura Florand. And if crime novels are your thing, then most of the wonderful Chief Inspector Adamsberg mysteries are set in Paris.  Just think, with so many to choose from – you could read a book a week and still find yourself in Paris after nearly a year!

We are really keen to build up our selection of novels set OUTSIDE of Paris – so would love to hear your suggestions. Do you know of any books set on the Riviera or in the French countryside that we don’t have listed? Let us know in the comments.

If you don’t mind where in France your next book comes from, then just stick with the general France Fiction category. ALL the books are there, along with those that don’t have a specific location. And please feel free to let us know if we have inadvertently put a book in the wrong category – we are always grateful for you keeping us on our toes in this respect!

That’s it. Get yeself off to France immediately…It’s summertime, the champagne is flowing……

Suzi

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Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk)

Books people are reading on the Tube – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

One of the best ways to keep an eye on current trends in literature is to take careful note of what people are reading on your daily commute.

I live in London – and it takes over an hour each way for me to travel to work and back. And while I often wish I hadn’t somehow ended up living at the opposite end of the city from the office, one thing it does do is give me some dedicated reading time each day.

AND it gives me plenty of snooping time.

I just can’t help having a good look around the train (or Tube, as we Londoners say) and check out what everyone else is reading. And if you do it often enough, you will see there are definite trends.The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I remember a few years back I couldn’t get in a carriage without seeing at least one person glued to their copy of  Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. That was then followed by a long spell of people reading one of my favourite novels of all time The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – making me want to sit down and have a good chat with them about it, which as anyone will tell you is a definite no-no on the London Underground. Friendly conversation is much frowned upon!

But lately the clear winner in the ‘Reading on the Tube’ stakes is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. While I enjoy the odd crime novel it is rarely at the top of my To Read list, but after seeing the distinctive red cover of Dragon Tattoo three times on one journey this week, I fear I couldn’t ignore the signs any longer. I have just placed my order with Amazon. (Which is selling it for the amazingly cheap £2.99 today – might be worth grabbing it straight away before the price changes…)

I will let you know if it lives up to its promise once I have devoured it.

But perhaps the most heartening picture to emerge from this extensive and highly scientific study of Tube Reads is that they are all great examples of Packabook books – those that transport us to another land. The Da Vinci Code gives us Paris,  Shadow of the Wind takes us to Barcelona, and Dragon Tattoo sends us off to Sweden.

Is there some connection between foreign countries and what people like to read on trains I wonder? Does being crammed into a crowded carriage with hundreds of other commuters make us crave escape to somewhere exotic?

If you too would like to find great novels set in foreign lands then head over to our gorgeous collection at Packabook’s main site. Just click on the country of your choice and you will soon be far, far away…

I am off to read in the sunshine….

Suzi

P.S. If you have read Dragon Tattoo we’d love to hear your thoughts. Let us know if it lives up to all the attention it has been getting…

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Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk)
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Please note - if you read our reviews and click on our links to buy books, we will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and we thank you for your support! Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk