As part of preparing for and getting excited about your trip, we recommend immersing yourself in literature, films, and music related to France! You can learn a lot about our country from the things people have written, and their descriptions of the landscape and the people.
In this post, we have included a selection of ‘easy reading’ and classic novels set in France.
Stuff Parisians Like - Olivier Magny
This is a tongue-in-cheek, short book about the qualities and flaws of Parisians. Many things are very true in this book, as you may discover on your trip to Paris! We like this synopsis of the book:
To be mistaken for a Parisian, readers must buy the newspaper Le Monde, fold it, and walk. Then sit at a café and make phone calls. Be sure to order San Pellegrino, not any other kind of fizzy water. They shouldn’t be surprised when a waiter brings out two spoons after they order le moelleux au chocolat - it is understood that the dessert is too sinfully delicious not to share. Go to l’île Saint-Louis - all Parisians are irredeemably in love with that island. Feel free to boldly cross the street whenever the impulse strikes - pedestrian crosswalks are too dangerous. If they take a cruise on the Seine, they will want to stand outside, preferably with their collar popped up… To truly be cool in Paris, own an iPhone, wear Converse sneakers, and order sushi. And as they stroll through the Luxembourg Gardens, remember - black is always the new black.
A Moveable Feast - Ernest Hemingway
A Moveable Feast is a memoir by American and Nobel-prize-winning writer Ernest Hemingway about his years as a struggling young expat journalist and writer in Paris in the 1920s. The book was first published in 1964 and describes the author's journey, personal struggle and frustrations as he sometimes desperately tries to write a good novel.
We get a sense of his relationship with his first wife, Hadley Richardson, who he apparently never got over, in spite of later leaving her for his second wife. There are also encounters in the book with fellow expats and writers F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein.
The Paris Wife - Paula McLain
This is a great book to follow on from A Moveable Feast. Paula McLain writes from Hemingway’s first wife Hadley Richardson’s perspective, mainly during the period in which they lived together in Paris in the 1920s, but also covering the time they first met in Chicago.
As one half of a poor expat couple in Paris with a young child and a cat to look after, Hadley’s calm temperament often contrasted with her husband’s unpredictable moods. He was often out of the house writing in cafes or drinking with fellow expats while she was focused on motherhood. In the book, we learn about Hadley’s feelings about Ernest’s new love interest - a friend of hers who would later become his second wife - and her eagerness to support her husband in his goal to become a successful writer in any way she could.
A wonderful sequel to A Moveable Feast - if you enjoyed that, you will enjoy this.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery
The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a fairly recent novel that fits somewhere between literary and commercial fiction. This is a book for philosophy lovers. It’s about two extremely intelligent women who feel obliged to hide their intellect in order for society to accept them.
Renée Michel is a middle-aged concierge in a luxury apartment block in Paris - if she wishes to keep her job, no-one must become aware of her brilliant mind. Paloma Josse is a precocious 12-year-old, daughter of a bourgeois family, who has reached the conclusion that life is meaningless, and plans to take her own on her 13th birthday.
Renée and Paloma's paths cross when a cultured Japanese man moves into the building. Both he and Paloma become fascinated by Renée and decide that she has 'the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary - and terribly elegant.'
In this novel, Barbery explores the philosophy of daily life. This explains the book's huge success in France, where philosophy is a compulsory subject at school and most people have a basic knowledge of the great philosophers.
A Year in Provence - Peter Mayle
In this entertaining and heartwarming memoir, Peter Mayle writes of his experience of living his dream - moving into a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in the remote countryside of the Lubéron, Provence, with his wife and two dogs. Peter covers Provençal cuisine, the renovation work on his house, garden and vineyard, and the local people. As French people ourselves, we have no problem admitting that many of his observations about French people are true!
Picnic in Provence - Elizabeth Bard
Picnic in Provence is another memoir, combined with some wonderful Provençal recipes. A tale of love in France, American writer Elizabeth Bard writes about her life in Provence with his French husband, and her experience of living abroad and adapting to different cultural norms. She also wrote Lunch in Paris (same type of novel and recipe book).
Earth’s Children book series - Jean M. Auel
Jean M Auel is the author of the Earth’s Children series of six books that depict and imagine different aspects of prehistoric life in Dordogne through the eyes of Cro-Magnon girl, Ayla.
Ayla was orphaned, adopted and raised by Neanderthal tribe, and later begins a journey in search of the Others (her own kind). Along the way, she meets Jondalar, who accompanies her on the remainder of her quest. The six novels are:
The Clan of the Cave Bear
The Valley of Horses
The Mammoth Hunters
The Plains of Passage
The Shelters of Stone
The Land of Painted Caves
They are a good introduction to French prehistoric sites, even if they are often romanticized. If you’re a fan of adventure novels that involve history and quests, you will enjoy the Earth’s children book series.
Timeline - Michael Crichton
In Timeline, Crichton stays true to his tradition of linking science [fiction], history and action in his novels. It's a story about a group of history students who use quantum technology to time-travel from modern-day New Mexico to 14th-century France on a rescue mission. France is in the throes of the Hundred Years' War, so this novel will be interesting for both history buffs and science fiction fans.
The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
This French classic is a historical romance about the adventures of four fictional heroes who lived at the time of Kings Louis XIII and XIV, who were on the French throne during the 17th and early 18th centuries. The story begins with D’Artagnan arriving in Paris from Gascony and becoming embroiled in three duels with the three musketeers Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. The four become very close friends, and when D’Artagnan is completing his apprenticeship as a cadet to become a musketeer, each of the musketeers takes turns in sharing guard duty with him. The fearless antics of the four friends play out against a background of court intrigue involving the powerful cardinal Richelieu.
The Three Musketeers combines adventure, romance and monarchy. If you enjoy it, Alexandre Dumas also wrote two sequels, Twenty Years After and The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Victor Hugo
Following the tragic fire at Notre Dame de Paris cathedral on April 15th, 2019, sales of Victor Hugo’s classic soared and the book became a bestseller on Amazon France.
Victor Hugo's classic novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame tells the tale of the beautiful Esmeralda and the cathedral’s bell-ringer Quasimodo. Esmeralda is a gypsy girl who is loved by three men: Archdeacon Frollo, his adopted son Quasimodo, and Captain Phoebus. Esmeralda is sentenced to death after being accused of trying to murder Phoebus while he was trying to rape her, and Quasimodo subsequently rescues her from the gallows.
This romantic and gripping novel tells the story of various groups of French society during the 19th century, from the king of France to beggars living in the Parisian sewers. At the center of the story is the protagonist; the colossal figure of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame itself. Quasimodo, his foster father, and Esmeralda become caught up in a tragedy that speaks of revolution and social conflict, of free will and destiny, and of love and loss.
At the time the novel was written, Hugo was quietly predicting the demise of the cathedral, as it has suffered years of neglect and subsequent decay. But following the huge success of the novel, the French people demanded its restoration. So although The Hunchback of Notre Dame was written as a kind of tribute in anticipation of the cathedral's imminent collapse, it in fact immortalized the cathedral and succeeded in saving it from total ruin.
It is a symbol of human accomplishment and endurance across many generations. This is why we remain confident that Notre Dame Cathedral will someday be restored to its former glory.