Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Adult Non-Fiction Review: A Year in Provence

A Year in Provence

Mayle, P. 1989. A Year in Provence. Penguin

[Genre: Travel memoir]

A Year in Provence has been on my to-read pile for years. I've lived in France, am likely to do so again and am always interested in the expat lifestyle there. And A Year in Provence was the French life memoir that started it all. I wanted to like it. I really did.

But I just . . .  didn't. It's set out pleasingly enough, by months of the year, as Mayle and his wife manuever through the first year in Provence and accompanying house renovation. The description is accomplished, especially in relation to the food. Which I think is why this one became a classic, its awe-inspiring, drool-inducing descriptions of French food.

Apart from that, it's all so. . . stylish. And superficial. Everything is given a honey coated gloss. Everything is positive, sun-shiney (even when it isn't) and we are really given only the barest details of what the reality of Mayle's life could possibly be. We never even learn his wife's first name. The most horrid of guests (including an acquaintance-of-an-acquaintance wanting to buy his own property, but refusing to engage a realtor despite not speaking a word of French) are reduced to amusing anecdotes. Renovations that drag on for the entire year and end with an unwanted fountain in the middle of the living room are cause for only extremely mild frustration followed by a shrug. To be honest, sometimes I wanted to punch the author for his seemingly sheer lack of feeling, about anything at all.

A Year in Provence is a memoir for the armchair tourist, not the armchair traveller. If you want a world where everything is charming, everyone has pots of money (enough to buy and renovate a 200 year old farmhouse and then live in it without any mention of a source of income or a day job), everything turns out alright in the end and you can have a vineyard in your back yard, this in the book for you. If you want an honest portrayal of what it's like to give up your life for another country, look elsewhere.

2 Stars. At least it's off Mount To-Be-Read now :D


  1. [...] A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle  Finished 16/04/13, Reviewed here [...]

  2. Interesting--I read the book when it first came out, decades ago, and liked it well enough. But the mini-series is an absolute favorite that I've watched many times, and now I infinitely prefer it to the book. I didn't care for Mayle's other books--I think you got it right, too superficial and stylish to ring true.

    Good review!

  3. Thanks! My husband, who's seen the mini-series (I haven't) thought it was much better than the book as well. I might have to check it out!