ReadingPlaces: Peter Mayle’s ‘A Year in Provence’

4 Sep

Cover of Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence

Wandering around Provincetown’s Commercial Street in early August, we spotted ‘Book Sale’ signs as we approached the library. We had just moved into a smaller apartment the week before and were still searching for places to store my ever-growing book collection, but I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to browse. Thirty minutes later I left with Mollie Katzen’s Enchanted Broccoli Forest and Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence.

While my love for food and travel (as well as food and travel lit) inspires me to explore whenever possible, I have to admit I don’t know much about French food or culture. A few years ago I tried taking a French 101 class at Smith College, but two months in the rest of the class was quickly advancing (for the most part, they had already taken four years of high school French), and I was struggling with pronunciation and the basics. My teacher thought it best that I pursue a different focus – which worked out well, because I love learning Spanish – but my interest in France unfortunately tapered off after that initial experience. So I welcomed reading A Year in Provence.

Peter Mayle and his wife had visited the south of France a handful of times as an escape from their home in England. A Year in Provence chronicles their relocation adventure, month-by-month, to a house in Luberon France. Throughout the story, dramatic shifts in weather, passion for fresh food and delicious wine, quirky characters from the surrounding villages, and natural flow of the changing seasons are all woven together. The book overall is a light read – pleasant and easy, but very enjoyable at the same time. There are moments when Mayle reflects on his UK perspective compared to the more slowed-down Provencal lifestyle, such as the speed at which people conduct business, or the seriousness of a weekday lunch break that seems foreign to much of the UK and United States. There are funny moments as well (odd interactions with their neighbor Massot, the many visitors who show up at the house, the goat race in August) that propel the story forward and beautiful descriptions of long meals that might inspire you to start researching plane tickets. If you’re interested in travel, France, food, or the experience of settling into a new environment, I recommend checking out A Year in Provence.

Peter Mayle is a prolific writer and often focuses on life in France and specifically Provence. A Year in Provence was written in 1989, became a bestseller, and was also made into a television series. Another book by Peter Mayle is A Good Year, was made into a popular with the same title directed by Ridley Scott and featured Russell Crowe and Archie Panjabi (plus Freddie Highmore, the kid from August Rush!).

What are some of your favorite food and/or travel books?

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