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 a selection of ten novels set in France representing a range of genres and styles. The second set of ten is listed here.
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
Birdsong is the story of Stephen Wraysford, a young Englishman caught in the horrors of trench warfare during the Great War. The book starts in 1910, when Stephen arrives in Amiens and begins an affair with unhappily married Isabelle. The relationship falters, and the story picks up again in 1916, with Stephen now an officer on the Western Front. The daily lives of Stephen and the men he is with on the Somme are described in great detail. As the slaughter grows, so does his determination to survive.
Bonjour tristesse by Françoise Sagan
Cécile, a 17-year-old girl, is holidaying on the Côte d’Azur with her widowed father, Raymond. When Anne, a friend of Raymond, arrives and takes charge, Cécile’s idyllic holiday is shattered. Raymond and Anne fall in love and their engagement is announced. Cécile sets out to prevent the marriage, with tragic consequences.
Tender is the night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Set mainly on the French Riviera in the 1920s, the novel chronicles the slow unravelling of the marriage of Dick and Nicole Diver. Rosemary Hoyt, a young actress, is drawn into the Divers’ social circle. Her friendship with Nicole is followed by an affair with Dick, leading to cracks in the delicate structure of the Divers’ relationship.
The girl who fell from the sky by Simon Mawer
Marian Sutro, a young French-British woman, parachutes into wartime France to act as a courier for the Resistance. She has a second more secret mission that takes her from the relative safety of her Resistance group in the South-West of France to occupied Paris. This is a taut, absorbing spy thriller.
The Paris wife by Paula McLain
The Paris wife is a fictional account of Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage to Hadley Richardson. The action, mainly seen through Hadley’s eyes, takes place mostly in 1920s Paris. As Paula McLain says, the actual story of the marriage between Ernest and Hadley was a ready-made novel, ripe for the picking. An intriguing companion to Hemingway’s memior A Moveable Feast.
All the light we cannot see by Anthony Doerr
A Pulitzer Prize winner in 2015, the novel follows the story of Marie-Laure, blind since the age of six, and a young German, Werner, whose paths cross in Saint-Malo towards the end of World War II. This is a complex story with an evocative setting in the old walled town of Saint-Malo.
Ripley under ground by Patricia Highsmith
First published in 1970, Ripley under ground is the second instalment in Highsmith’s Ripley series. It picks up the story of Tom Ripley six years after the events of The talented Mr. Ripley. Tom is now married to a beautiful and rich Frenchwoman and living in a villa outside Paris. He’s caught up in an art fraud and will stop at nothing, including murder, to prevent his cosy world falling apart. This is Ripley at his worst and Highsmith at her best.
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
The book that started the whole Bond series. James Bond is sent to Royal-les-Eaux in northern France in an effort to bankrupt Le Chiffre, a Russian agent who controls a large fund belonging to SMERSH. Much of the action centres around a high-stakes baccarat game at the casino. Spare writing and a well-paced plot.
The winter ghosts by Kate Mosse
The winter ghosts tells the story of Freddie Watson, a young Englishman still coming to terms with the loss of his brother a decade earlier during the Great War. During a journey in the Pyrenees, Freddie’s car spins off the road in a snowstorm. He walks to the nearest village, where he meets Fabrissa, a woman who is also in mourning. The book has an interesting setting and a ghostly plot twist.
A hero in France by Alan Furst
Paris during the Nazi occupation is the setting for A hero in France. The story follows Mathieu, the leader of a French Resistance cell working to help downed British airmen escape to the border with Spain. Surveillance on Mathieu and his group tightens and they risk everything to defy the Germans. A good, suspenseful read.
How about you? What are your favourite novels set in France?