Reading lists

Carol Drinkwater picks five novels to transport you to France

The author of The Forgotten Summer on the books that whisk her away to France.

Carol Drinkwater

L’Amant, The Lover by Marguerite Duras

Mid-eighties, about the time I was settling in France with two very sassy adolescent step-daughters, I discovered Marguerite Duras, who remains an inspiration to me. Duras has left behind an extraordinary legacy as playwright, screenwriter, director and novelist. Again, she writes boldly about her emotions and sexual experiences. In 1984, she published L’Amant, The Lover. It won the Prix Goncourt. Duras claimed it an autobiographical story set in 1929 in Vietnam where she was born and spent her childhood. It tells the tale of a teenage girl from a poor family who meets a wealthy Chinese man on a ferry crossing the Mekong Delta. The book narrates their clandestine romance. It is also a wonderful window on French colonial Vietnam. 

Voyages de Noces, Honeymoon by Patrick Modiano

Multi-award winning novelist and screen-writer Patrick Modiano was recipient of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature. Until then I had not been acquainted with his work. Since, I have read him in both English and French. I began with Voyages de Noces, Honeymoon. I was instantly spellbound.  His books are frequently concerned with unravelling the past and his characters seem to travel dream-like through their own memories. Reading Modiano is like walking the film sets of a film noir. His writing is hypnotic, poetic and very evocative.

Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources by Marcel Pagnol

Lastly, I return to Provence, to the earth, to Marcel Pagnol. Also a writer and filmmaker; the first filmmaker to be elected to the Académie Française.  I read an article that stated France respects its literary giants but LOVES Pagnol. James Herriot’s writing has similarities. A writer who knows his territory, is charmed by his characters but knows to paint them with an astute eye. I return to Pagnol’s books and films regularly and I always come away from the experience uplifted. If you want to be transported to Provence before tourism stepped in, Pagnol is for you. Begin with Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources.

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more