Holidays are an excellent opportunity for sinking your teeth into a good book, especially here in the peace and tranquillity of our retreat. If you can find a book based in the country you’re visiting, you’re in for a real treat as you take in the sounds, landscapes, tastes, and scents of the same setting!
To celebrate World Book Day, we’ve scoured hundreds of reviews and bestseller lists for fabulous books all set in France to bring you a collection across all genres. From poignant literary fiction to light-hearted romantic comedy or classic French literature, you’re sure to find the perfect accompaniment to your travels in France.
The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden (1960)
The Greengage Summer is Rumer Godden’s tense, evocative portrait of love and deceit in the Champagne region of provincial France, which became a memorable film starring Kenneth More and Susannah York. The faded elegance of Hotel Les Oeillets, with its bullet-scarred staircase and serene garden bounded by high walls; Eliot, the charming Englishman who became the children’s guardian while their mother lay ill in hospital; sophisticated Mademoiselle Zizi, hotel patronne, and Eliot’s devoted lover; sixteen-year-old Joss, suddenly, achingly beautiful. And the Marne river flowing silent and slow beyond them all… They would merge together in a gold-green summer of discovery, until the fruit rotted on the trees and cold seeped into their bones…
The Dragonfly by Kate Dunn (2017)
The Dragonfly explores the relationship between a middle-aged Englishman, Colin, and his French granddaughter, Delphine, who are thrown together when her mother is killed. A complicated and unhappy family history haunts this unlikely couple on their voyage on Colin’s small boat, the Dragonfly. The story unfolds along the beautiful rivers south of Paris, through dramatic landscapes, punctuated by exquisite medieval villages.
Three Strong Women by Marie Ndiaye (2009)
Three women who almost had it all…Norah thinks she has made it when she qualifies as a lawyer in Paris; Fanta works her way into a prestigious teaching job in her home city; Khady runs a cafe with her loving husband – now all she wants is a child. But family ties, broken or reasserted, will force each woman to face a journey from France to Africa or from Africa to France that will take the future out of their hands and change their lives forever. Domineering fathers, weak lovers, the perilous road of the refugee – they will need all their courage and inner strength if they are to overcome.
Death and Croissants by Ian Moore (2022)
Richard is a middle-aged Englishman who runs a B&B in the fictional Val de Follet in the Loire Valley. Nothing ever happens to Richard, and really that’s the way he likes it. One day, however, one of his older guests disappears, leaving behind a bloody handprint on the wallpaper. Another guest, the exotic Valerie, persuades a reluctant Richard to join her in investigating the disappearance. Richard remains a dazed passenger in the case until things become really serious and someone murders Ava Gardner, one of his beloved hens… and you don’t mess with a fellow’s hens! Unputdownable mystery set in rural France, by TV/radio regular and bestselling author Ian Moore – perfect for fans of Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club.
Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources by Marcel Pagrol (1963)
In a rural French village an old man and his only remaining relative cast their covetous eyes on an adjoining vacant property. They need its spring water to grow their own flowers and crops, so are dismayed to hear that a new owner is moving in. They block up the spring and watch as their new neighbour, Jean, tries to keep his crops watered from wells far afield throughout the hot summer. Though they see his desperate efforts are breaking his health and his wife and daughter’s hearts, they turn a blind eye as events reach a tragic conclusion. Manon des Sources picks up the thread ten years on as Jean’s daughter, Manon, now a beautiful woman, discovers her neighbours’ heartless actions and seeks to avenge her father’s death.
Village of Secrets by Caroline Moorehead (2014)
From the author of the New York Times bestseller A Train in Winter comes the extraordinary story of a French village that helped save thousands who were pursued by the Gestapo during World War II. High up in the mountains of the southern Massif Central in France lies a cluster of tiny, remote villages united by a long and particular history. During the Nazi occupation, the inhabitants of the Plateau Vivarais Lignon saved several thousand people from the concentration camps. As the victims of Nazi persecution flooded in – resisters, freemasons, communists and Jews, many of them children – the villagers united to keep them safe. The story of why and how these villages came to save so many people has never been fully told. But several of the remarkable architects of the mission are still alive, as are a number of those they saved. Caroline Moorehead has sought out and interviewed many of the people involved in this extraordinary undertaking, and brings us their unforgettable testimonies. It is a story of courage and determination, of a small number of heroic individuals who risked their lives to save others, and of what can be done when people come together to oppose tyranny.
Bonjour Tristesse by Francoisse Sagan (1954)
The French Riviera: home to the Beautiful People. And none are more beautiful than Cecile, a precocious seventeen-year-old, and her father Raymond, a vivacious libertine. Charming, decadent and irresponsible, the golden-skinned duo are dedicated to a life of free love, fast cars and hedonistic pleasures. But then, one long, hot summer Raymond decides to marry, and Cecile and her lover Cyril feel compelled to take a hand in his amours, with tragic consequences. Bonjour Tristesse scandalized 1950s France with its portrayal of teenager terrible Cecile, a heroine who rejects conventional notions of love, marriage and responsibility to choose her own sexual freedom.
Chocolate Joanne Harris (1999)
When an exotic stranger, Vianne Rocher, arrives in the French village of Lansquenet and opens a chocolate boutique directly opposite the church, Father Reynaud denounces her as a serious moral danger to his flock – especially as it is the beginning of Lent, the traditional season of self-denial.
As passions flare and the conflict escalates, the whole community takes sides. Can the solemnity of the Church compare with the sinful pleasure of a chocolate truffle?
Sprinting Through No Man’s Land by Adin Dobkin (2021)
The inspiring, heart-pumping true story of soldiers turned cyclists and the historic 1919 Tour de France that helped to restore a war-torn country and its people. On June 29, 1919, one day after the Treaty of Versailles brought about the end of World War I, nearly seventy cyclists embarked on the thirteenth Tour de France. From Paris, the war-weary men rode down the western coast on a race that would trace the country’s border, through seaside towns and mountains to the ghostly western front. Traversing a cratered postwar landscape, the cyclists faced near-impossible odds and the psychological scars of war. Most of the athletes had arrived straight from the front, where so many fellow countrymen had suffered or died. The cyclists’ perseverance and tolerance for pain would be tested in a grueling, monthlong competition. An inspiring true story of human endurance, Sprinting Through No Man’s Land explores how the cyclists united a country that had been torn apart by unprecedented desolation and tragedy. It shows how devastated countrymen and women can come together to celebrate the adventure of a lifetime and discover renewed fortitude, purpose, and national identity in the streets of their towns.
Je’taime a la Folie by Michael Wright (2010)
One day in late summer, Michael Wright gave up his comfortable South London existence and, with only his long-suffering cat for company, set out to begin a new life. His destination was ‘La Folie’, a dilapidated 15th century farmhouse in need of love and renovation in the heart of rural France… Inspired by the success of his column in the Daily Telegraph about La Folie, this book is his winningly honest account of his struggle to fulfil a childhood dream and become a Real Man – to make the journey from social townie to rugged, solitary paysan. And in chronicling his enthusiastic attempts at looking after livestock and coming to terms with the concept of living Abroad Alone, the author discovers what it takes to be a man at the beginning of the 21st century, especially if one is short sighted, flat footed and not very good at games. Life-affirming, laugh out loud funny (and boasting more than its fair share of larger-than-life locals, bilingual chickens, diminutive but over-sexed sheep, invisible rodents, manly power tools with unpronounceable names, plus the occasional femmes fatale), this tale of a new-found life in France with a cat, a piano and an aeroplane is both an elegy for a world that’s fast disappearing as a hymn to the simple pleasures of being alive.
French Leave by PG Woodhouse (1956)
Three American sisters leave their chicken farm on Long Island for a holiday in Europe. In France they encounter the charming but penniless Marquis de Maufringneuse, his writer son Jeff, and the marquis’s tough American ex-wife. When they all find themselves together at the exclusive resort of St. Rocque – one of the sisters in search of a husband, the marquis in search of a fortune, the writer in search of love – Wodehousian complications ensue.
La Grande Meaulnes by Alain Goumier (1913)
When Meaulnes first arrives at the local school in Sologne, everyone is captivated by his good looks, daring and charisma. But when Meaulnes disappears for several days, and returns with tales of a strange party at a mysterious house – and his love for the beautiful girl hidden within it, Yvonne de Galais – his life has been changed forever. In his restless search for his Lost Estate and the happiness he found there, Meaulnes, observed by his loyal friend Francois, may risk losing everything he ever had. Poised between youthful admiration and adult resignation, Alain-Fournier’s compelling narrator carries the reader through this evocative and unbearably poignant portrayal of desperate friendship and vanished adolescence.
Timeline by Michael Crichton (1999)
Sometimes, it seems like you can reach out and touch the past… An old man wearing a brown robe is found wandering disoriented in the Arizona desert. He is miles from any human habitation and has no memory of how he got to be there, or who he is. The only clue to his identity is the plan of a medieval monastery in his pocket. In France, Professor Edward Johnston and his students are studying the ruins of a medieval town. Suspicious of the knowledge of the site shown by their mysterious financier, he returns to the US to investigate. But in his absence, the students make a disturbing discovery in the ruins: the long-decayed remains of Johnston’s glasses – and a message in modern English. The implications are staggering. The consequences are earth-shaking. And the distant past isn’t so distant any more. Increasingly considered an underappreciated classic that stands proudly alongside his more famous works like Jurassic Park and Westworld, Timeline confirms Michael Crichton as the king of the high-concept thriller, and a master storyteller to boot.
3 Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (1844)
The Three Musketeers is a historical adventure novel written in 1844 by French author Alexandre Dumas. It is in the swashbuckler genre, which has heroic, chivalrous swordsmen who fight for justice. Set between 1625 and 1628, it recounts the adventures of a young man named d’Artagnan (a character based on Charles de Batz-Castelmore d’Artagnan) after he leaves home to travel to Paris, hoping to join the Musketeers of the Guard. Although d’Artagnan is not able to join this elite corps immediately, he is befriended by three of the most formidable musketeers of the age – Athos, Porthos and Aramis, “the three inseparables” – and becomes involved in affairs of state and at court.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery (2006)
Rene is the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building. She maintains a carefully constructed persona as someone uncultivated but reliable, in keeping with what she feels a concierge should be. But beneath this facade lies the real Rene: passionate about culture and the arts, and more knowledgeable in many ways than her employers with their outwardly successful but emotionally void lives. Down in her lodge, apart from weekly visits by her one friend Manuela, Rene lives with only her cat for company. Meanwhile, several floors up, twelve-year-old Paloma Josse is determined to avoid the pampered and vacuous future laid out for her, and decides to end her life on her thirteenth birthday. But unknown to them both, the sudden death of one of their privileged neighbours will dramatically alter their lives forever. By turns moving and hilarious, this unusual and insightful novel is now an international publishing sensation, with sales of over 10 million copies.
Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo (1831)
Lovely Esmeralda, haunted by an obsessive would-be lover and unjustly accused of murder, unexpectedly finds a tormented protector in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Quasimodo the hunchback keeps to his duties as bell-ringer of Notre Dame cathedral and stays close to his guardian, the Archdeacon Claude Frollo. His devotion proves misguided when a plan of Frollo’s goes wrong and Quasimodo finds himself abused by a crowd and shown mercy only by the gypsy girl Esmeralda. The hunchback’s love and resolve to protect her leads to desperate action and tragedy when she is falsely accused of murder. Emotions run high as society’s elite falters and fails, and the lowest misfits of society prove their worth in this timeless epic of love, justice and redemption. The novel’s human characters have all but taken on lives of their own, but notice must be made of the author’s treatment of Notre Dame as the cathedral virtually becomes a character itself. The book’s loving descriptions spurred increased appreciation of Notre Dame as a symbol of Paris and inspired its preservation and renovation. The Hunchback of Notre Dame was first published in 1831 and has since been adapted to stage and screen many times, with more than one of the film versions attaining classic status.
The little Paris Bookshop by Nina George (2013)
On a beautifully restored barge on the Seine, Jean Perdu runs a bookshop; or rather a ‘literary apothecary’, for this bookseller possesses a rare gift for sensing which books will soothe the troubled souls of his customers. The only person he is unable to cure, it seems, is himself. He has nursed a broken heart ever since the night, twenty-one years ago, when the love of his life fled Paris, leaving behind a handwritten letter that he has never dared read. His memories and his love have been gathering dust – until now. The arrival of an enigmatic new neighbour in his eccentric apartment building on Rue Montagnard inspires Jean to unlock his heart, unmoor the floating bookshop and set off for Provence, in search of the past and his beloved.
All the light we cannot see by Anthony Doerr (2014)
A beautiful, stunningly ambitious novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II ‘Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.’ For Marie-Laure, blind since the age of six, the world is full of mazes. The miniature of a Paris neighbourhood, made by her father to teach her the way home. The microscopic layers within the invaluable diamond that her father guards in the Museum of Natural History. The walled city by the sea, where father and daughter take refuge when the Nazis invade Paris. And a future which draws her ever closer to Werner, a German orphan, destined to labour in the mines until a broken radio fills his life with possibility and brings him to the notice of the Hitler Youth. In this magnificent, deeply moving novel, the stories of Marie-Laure and Werner illuminate the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.
Bruno – Chief of Police by Martin Walker (2008)
Meet Benoît Courrèges, aka Bruno, a policeman in a small village in the South of France. He’s a former soldier who has embraced the pleasures and slow rhythms of country life. He has a gun but never wears it; he has the power to arrest but never uses it. But then the murder of an elderly North African who fought in the French army changes all that. Now Bruno must balance his beloved routines-living in his restored shepherd’s cottage, shopping at the local market, drinking wine, strolling the countryside-with a politically delicate investigation. He’s paired with a young policewoman from Paris and the two suspect anti-immigrant militants. As they learn more about the dead man’s past, Bruno’s suspicions turn toward a more complex motive.
Zazie in the Metro by Raymond Quereau (1959)
Impish, foul-mouthed Zazie arrives in Paris from the country to stay with Gabriel, her female-impersonator uncle. All she really wants to do is ride the metro, but finding it shut because of a strike, Zazie looks for other means of amusement and is soon caught up in a comic adventure that becomes wilder and more manic by the minute. In 1960 Queneau’s cult classic was made into a hugely successful film by Louis Malle. Packed full of word play and phonetic games, Zazie in the Metro remains as stylish and witty as ever.
The Discovery of France by Graham Robb (2007)
The Discovery of France, illuminating, engrossing and full of surprises, is the result of Robb’s 14,000 mile journey across France on a bicycle. Winner of both the Duff Cooper and the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje prizes, The Discovery of France is a modern non-fiction classic, a literary exploration of a remarkable nation. From maps and migration to magic, language and landscape, it reveals a France few will recognize. ‘An extraordinary journey of discovery’ Daily Telegraph ‘Robb’s concise and fast-paced writing pedals along with never a dull paragraph . . . dazzling’ Sunday Times.
La Bete Humaine by Emile Zola (1890)
Did possessing and killing amount to the same thing deep within the dark recesses of the human beast? La Bete humaine (1890), is one of Zola’s most violent and explicit works. On one level a tale of murder, passion and possession, it is also a compassionate study of individuals derailed by atavistic forces beyond their control. Zola considered this his `most finely worked’ novel, and in it he powerfully evokes life at the end of the Second Empire in France, where society seemed to be hurtling into the future like the new locomotives and railways it was building. While expressing the hope that human nature evolves through education and gradually frees itself of the burden of inherited evil, he is constantly reminding us that under the veneer of technological progress there remains, always, the beast within.
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1862)
One of the most widely read novels of all time, Les Miserables was the crowning literary achievement of Victor Hugo’s career. An enormous melodrama set against the background of political upheaval in France following the rule of Napoleon I, the novel tells the story of the peasant Jean Valjean – unjustly imprisoned and hounded by his nemesis, the magnificently realized police detective, Javert. A monumental classic dedicated to the oppressed, Les Miserables captures the entirety of life in 19th-century France.
One more Croissant for the road by Felicity Cloake (2019)
A land of glorious landscapes, and even more glorious food, France is a place built for cycling and for eating, too – a country large enough to give any journey an epic quality, but with a bakery on every corner. Part travelogue, part food memoir, all love letter to France, One More Croissant for the Road follows ‘the nation’s taster in chief’ Felicity Cloake’s very own Tour de France, cycling 2,300km across France in search of culinary perfection; from Tarte Tatin to Cassoulet via Poule au Pot, and Tartiflette. Each of the 21 ‘stages’ concludes with Felicity putting this new found knowledge to good use in a fresh and definitive recipe for each dish – the culmination of her rigorous and thorough investigative work on behalf of all of our taste buds.
Swann’s Way (Vol. 1 of In Search of Lost Time) by Marcel Proust (1913)
In his achievement as a novelist, Marcel Proust stands alone. Swann’s Way is one of seven books that comprise In Search of Lost Time (A la recherche du temps perdu, 1913-1927), unique in fiction for its sustained fullness of thought and richness of characterization. Though In Search of Lost Time is saturated with details of French bourgeois and aristocratic life at the turn of the century, it retains its freshness for readers today because Proust’s concerns—the meaning of love and time, as understood through an individual’s memories—are always relevant. The novel is encyclopedic: its chief themes include the genesis of erotic attachment and jealousy, the growth of wisdom, and the dawning of artistic consciousness. What sets Proust’s work apart, however, is not his subject matter but his way of treating it. The unnamed first-person narrator’s story is laced with digressive explorations of the feelings and thoughts underlying even the smallest actions. In Swann’s Way, the great arc of In Search of Lost Time begins with the narrator’s efforts to recapture and understand his past, efforts set in motion by the taste of a madeleine soaked in tea. The narrator’s thoughts about his own life lead him ineluctably to the past of Charles Swann, a family friend the narrator knew as a child. By remembering and imaginatively inhabiting Swann’s love affair with the coquette Odette, the narrator gains insight into his life and the nature of love itself.