The cities and regions of France have been an inspiration for many writers. I enjoyed researching the French locations for my novel Peloton of Two. Somehow, when I should have been working on the research, I also found myself rereading my favourite novels set in France and discovering new ones.
Below is the second half of my list 20 novels set in France. They represent a range of genres and styles, so there’s something in the list for everyone. The first half of the list is here.
Fair stood the wind for France by H E Bates
Pilot John Franklin brings his crippled bomber safely down in Occupied France at the height of the Second World war. He and his crew seek refuge at a remote farmhouse and are taken in by the farmer’s family. The crew move on, but Franklin, who was seriously injured in the crash, remains at the farm to recuperate. During the long hot summer, he falls in love with the farmer’s daughter Françoise. Eventually they make the hazardous journey across France to safety.
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
Deborah Levy’s Booker Prize winning story takes place over a week during the summer of 1994. Joe and Isabel are staying with their daughter and another couple in a villa in south-east France, when they discover a young woman, Kitty, in their swimming pool. Kitty says she is at the villa because of an error in her booking reservations and has nowhere else to go. Isabel invites her to stay on. Kitty is the catalyst for the situation at the villa spiralling out of control.
Girl at the lion d’or by Sebastian Faulks
In 1936, Anne Louvet arrives in the small coastal town of Janvilliers to work in a run-down hotel. She begins an affair with one of the hotel’s customers, Charles Hartmann. Both bear the emotional scars of their past. In Anne’s case it is an unexplained family disgrace. For Charles it’s the effects of his service in the first world war. Both see themselves as victims of events whose repetition they are powerless to prevent.
Chocolat by Joanne Harris
Vianne Rocher arrives with her young daughter in a tiny French village. Vianne moves into the village’s disused bakery, where she intends to open a chocolate shop. In the nearby church, Father Reynaud watches with increasing dismay. Through the period of Lent, the villagers divide into two camps. As Easter approaches Vianne and Father Reynaud battle for the between the forces of pleasure and self-denial.
The debt to pleasure by John Lanchester
Lanchester’s first person narrator, Tarquin Winot, is an entertaining and erudite food critic. As he travels from Portsmouth to the south of France, Winot tells the story of his life through a series of seasonal menus. At first it seems that he is working on a cookbook, but slowly it becomes clear that he is on a more sinister mission.
Providence by Anita Brookner
Kitty Maule, an academic, accompanies her colleague Maurice Bishop to France on a study of its cathedrals. Kitty harbours hopes of a romance with Maurice, who is charming but seems not to notice her feelings. She longs to be close to him, but the more she tries, the more elusive he becomes. Kitty, it seems, may be destined for disillusionment.
Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks
In 1942, Charlotte Gray heads for Occupied France on a mission for Britain’s SOE. Once there, she sets out to search for her lover, Peter, an airman missing in action. In France, she comes into contact with a Resistance group led by Julien, who is half-Jewish. As her search for Peter proves fruitless, Charlotte comes face-to-face with Vichy’s complicity in the deportation of Jews from France. Charlotte Gray is the third novel in Faulks’ French Trilogy, following Girl at the lion d’or and Birdsong.
A good year by Peter Mayle
Max Skinner, who has recently lost his job at a London financial company, inherits his uncle’s vineyard in Provence. He arrives at the vineyard to find the house in disrepair and the wine of very poor quality. When a beautiful California wine expert arrives unexpectedly at the chateau, help appears to be at hand. But she may have a greater claim to the estate than Max.
Madam, will you talk? by Mary Stewart
Charity Selbourne is on holiday in the south of France when she becomes involved in a sinister plot to kidnap a young boy. As she attempts to foil the plot, Charity finds herself in a deadly pursuit across the south of France. Published in 1954, Madam, will you talk? was Stewart’s first novel. The author is said to have invented the romantic suspense genre.
Assignment in Brittany by Helen MacInnes
MacInnes was the wife of an MI6 intelligence agent. Her novels were said to contain such realistic detail that they were required reading for agents being sent to occupied France. Assignment in Brittany was her second novel. Published in 1942, it follows a British intelligence officer, Martin Hearne, who impersonates a French local while spying on the Germans in Brittany. Hearne manages to fool the mother, fiancée and mistress of Bertrand Corlay, but is ultimately betrayed and undertakes a risky bid for freedom.