Five books

Carol Drinkwater picks five books to transport you to France

Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan

When I was a student listening to chanteuses such as Françoise Hardy, talking passionately with fellow students about the 68 protests in Paris, I discovered Bonjour Tristesse. Francoise Sagan’s “scandalous” novel, published in 1954 when she was eighteen became an overnight sensation. I discovered it fifteen years after its original publication when I was at drama school. By then, we were well into the Flower Power movement, Free Love and living by one’s own moral choices, even if I was way behind the times, rather gauche and inexperienced. By the late 60s, Sagan’s tale of amorality and jealousy had lost some of its power to shock. Still, it resonated with me: the Anglo-Irish Catholic girl struggling to shuck her education. Especially as my father was known to have a philandering eye. That unique relationship between father and daughter with its sexual undertones has rarely been so well painted.

 

L’AmantThe 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. 

 

The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono

Settling in the south of France on an olive farm awakened me to the changing seasons, the regenerative power of nature, the history and Mediterranean tapestry of food. Few shifts in my own life have changed me as much as this first-hand encounter with the earth. Jean Giono is a Provencal writer born and bred in the south, the Midi. In 2002 when I was delivering The Olive Season, second of my Olive series centred around life in the south of France, I was feeling anxious because the book narrates the shift between grieving a miscarried daughter and the healing power of planting trees. The VERY DAY I handed in the manuscript, I bought a copy of Jean Giono’s The Man Who Planted Trees. Obviously, the title caught my attention. Giono’s work was a revelation. It is deceptively simple, yet is imbued with an earth poetry the like of which I had never encountered before. Every word he writes is an inspiration.

 

Voyages de NocesHoneymoon 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.

 

Find out more about the author

The Forgotten Summer

Carol Drinkwater

'Lovely, mouth-watering, page-turning. Packed with the sunshine, scents and savours of the South of France. Enough to make you rush straight to the Eurostar.' Daily Mail

The grape harvest at the Cambon family's magnificent Provencal vineyard is always a cause for celebration. But not this year. When the crop is accidentally destroyed, leaving the estate facing ruin, Clarisse Cambon knows exactly who to blame - her English daughter-in-law Jane.

It's just the latest incident in a decades-long feud that has left Jane feeling like an uninvited guest in her husband Luc's family. But when tragedy strikes and Jane uncovers a shocking secret at the family's heart she wonders if she ever really knew any of the Cambons, especially her husband, at all.

Now she is left with a terrible choice - walk away and see everything the Cambons believe in fall apart, or stay to expose the truth and risk being caught in the storm?

'Secrets, tragedy, hidden pasts and family secrets all set in glorious Provence - I loved this' Santa Montefiore

'This atmospheric read will whisk you straight to the South of France as you become immersed in the tale of secrets and heartbreak' Marie Claire

Related features

.