A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
|A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A light and frothy look at a year in the life of the author and his wife as they renovated an old farmhouse and came to terms with the local dialect and customs. It's enjoyable but light on detail for the serious reader.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 224||Date: June 2000|
|Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd|
Tiring of life in England and the rat race which went with it, Peter Mayle and his wife moved to a farmhouse in Provence. We hear about a year in their life as they renovate their home and come to terms with the local customs and dialect.
I first read A Year in Provence a few months after it was published in the late nineteen eighties. It was a cold, wet day and I curled up next to the fire and read the book from cover to cover, longing for some sunshine. Despite the impracticalities of the idea I wondered if it really would be possible to make such a move and closed the book with a sigh, part of enjoyment and part of sadness.
It was the idea of the old farmhouse which appealed to me most, in the days when Provence was just a region of France (that bit in the far south-east) rather than a holiday destination. The area was unspoilt, particularly at the foot of the Luberon Mountains, between Aix and Avignon and Mayle saw it at its best. In fact I've often wondered how much this book contributed to Provence becoming the holiday destination of choice.
He's bitingly funny about the local customs but never quite slips over the edge into being unkind, perhaps because it's obvious that he has a real enthusiasm for the local lifestyle and the area. Being a very clubbable man helps – there's no sense that he ever hangs back or does other than throw himself into whatever is going on. He's good at conveying the general idea of life in Provence, but occasionally light on specific detail. The book is now rather dated, but even in the eighties it was a book to read for enjoyment rather than for information about Provence.
It is idyllic, even aspirational with plenty of local colour. Some of the 'locals' are real people; M. Soliva and Tante Yvonne from the restaurant at Lambesc, for instance, but the people are almost caricatures rather than characters, introduced to make a point. Mayle has the happy knack of seeing the lighter side of most situations, be it the Mistral or the tribulations of employing a local builder and they're offset by a lot of emphasis on the good local food and wine. He's self-deprecating and prepared to tell a story at his own expense so you'll smile most of the way through the book.
It's light and it's frothy – good for an afternoon's entertainment, but probably ultimately unsatisfying if you like your travel writing to have more depth and insight. Ian Walthew made a similar move in the English countryside, but you'll find a lot more depth in A Place In My Country. For a little more detail on Provence we were pleasantly surprised by Provence A - Z by Peter Mayle.
You can read more book reviews or buy A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.