Provence A - Z by Peter Mayle

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Provence A - Z by Peter Mayle

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Category: Travel
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: It really is pretty much more of the same, but Provence A-Z is no less sharply observed, no less amusing and remains as kindly and gentle as ever. Recommended as a light read for lovers of anecdote and as an undemanding gift. It's not new, but it is nice.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: October 2006
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
ISBN: 1861978847

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You have to begin to wonder if Peter Mayle's saucisson, however gourmand, hasn't been sliced just a little too thin. We've had A Year, A Toujours, An Encore, and now we have an Alphabet. Surely there aren't another whole book's worth of Provencale peccadillos yet to be revealed? I suppose it all depends on just how much you like anecdotes.

I like anecdotes. I like peccadillos. I prefer to listen to them than to read them though. Provence A-Z is a book I'd be unlikely to buy. I find the most convivial company to be a physical presence. I enjoy the kind of bon viveur raconteurs who actually sit in my living room, drinking a glass of wine from the same bottle as my own. And so I sat down to read it, expecting to find it light and amusing but lacking that sense of immediacy that truly makes a story shared. And just as I did when I read A Year In Provence, I came away with a better bargain than I'd anticipated.

It seems there is a magic purse of stories inside Mr Mayle. No sooner has one little golden coin popped out than another appears to take its place. Provence A-Z has all the trademark Mayle wit and affection. The irony is still there and so is the sense of repleteness and the fond appreciation of eccentricity in all its many forms. The observation is as sharp as ever. It's all very plus ca change, but it's no less amusing. I particularly enjoyed reading of the morning spent with the last living French executioner, so proud of his grisly trade. I couldn't help but laugh at the general hatred of Parisians - where I live, in Devon, everyone hates Londoners. I couldn't help but laugh too at the French conviction of superiority...

Over the years, it has become clear that the American almond doesn't have the same taste as the French almond, being less good and a long way away.


For me though, it's always the food that entrances. I could read about food all day long. I could certainly read Mr Mayle's descriptions of food all day long. Mrs Mayle's daube recipe is to die for. I am determined to start my own cacheille - an exciting Provencale system of recycling. One takes one's leftover chunks of soft cheese, mixes them with garlic and herbs, adds marc (a French pomace brandy a little like grappa. I don't know what I'll use, but I'll think of something) and forms a base on which, over the coming months, to add more cheese, more garlic, more brandy. Imagine the rarebit you could make with that!

Provence A-Z could well be a book too far for some. But for those who do not tire of anecdotes, for those who do not tire of reading them, it's a rather sweet, if rather unadventurous little book. The A-Z format lends itself to sessions of dipping in and out and, of course, to sessions of sharing. It would make a very satisfactory gift - it's light, amusing, and very undemanding. Perfect for Christmas.

Thanks to Profile, the publisher, for sending the book.

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Magda said:

I just could never take to Mayle, at all. And that's not for lack of food-reading passion, so I don't know why. Maybe because I am not that fond of anecdotes...

The cheese thing reminds me (very loosely) of English potted cheese.