This is certainly not the kind of book I usually read, but it’s what the Bobcat neighborhood book club chose, and I want to stay in the book club, so I read it. As many of you who read this book years ago already know, A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle, came out in 1989 originally. The copy I have contains an update from ten years later.
This would not be a beloved best-selling novel if it didn’t have its charms, and Mayle most assuredly can paint a picture of a culture in just a few words and a few bucolic tales of the neighbors and neighborhoods. I think any Francophile would just love the little vignettes and word portraits of the people in a remote area of Provence and how their activities and non-activities change from season to season.
There’s the problem. I’m not, alas, a Francophile, even though I once married one and have beloved friends who adore France. Too many years of watching French cinema could be a cause. Or it could be the particular set of grumpy, chain-smoking French people with strong superiority complexes I’ve known. (Before you rebuke me, I realize there are plenty of people in this continent who could be characterized similarly.
I didn’t find the way the contractors working on the house just disappeared for months with no warning nor any explanation (this may be because our pool workers have done the same). I didn’t find the smelly, mean-spirited neighbor, who Mayle seemed totally enchanted with, at all fascinating. He reminded me of half of Milam County, Texas.
And I know he was a sweet old man with much going for him, but Mayle came off to me as someone with more money than he knew what to do with, and no ability to make his own decisions. He just went along with everyone else and their ideas and timetables. Oops, I hope I didn’t just describe myself. I may have described how I must come across sometimes (I assure you; I do NOT have more money than I know what to do with–each horse and swimming pool expenditure comes with sacrificing something else and with the sad bonus of annoying my dear spouse).
This book review is not about me, it’s about Provence, an area of France where it gets quite hot and is often very windy…much like Milam County. Maybe I found too much of my own life in this book to find it a real getaway.
And also, I’m a linguist and all that, but I didn’t know what a lot of the words in the story meant. I’m not ignorant in French, but I wish more context from which to figure out the meanings of some of the liberally sprinkled French words and phrases had been included. Some of us studied Spanish, you know.
Still, anyone will enjoy some of the little bits you learn about Provence, the stories of grapes and mushrooms, and learning about how hunters of over thirty years ago a lot like the ones are today (they need their modern conveniences!). At least there is a lot less trash on the side of the road after hunting is over in Texas. You can enjoy a few days with this book and not get upset, angry, or bored, so it’s worth a shot.
My favorite part of reading A Year in Provence, though, was that I got to use my new bookmark that I got in Breck. It’s a cool fox, or dare I say, renard, on it. Its little face looks “très amusant” peeking out from the top of a book. I can’t wait to use it again.